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For The Love Of Books



 There are few things as soothing, welcoming, and downright entertaining as a book about books. I first read 84, Charing Cross Road as a young teenager and I still remember the feeling of kinship. I hadn't read many of the books she wrote about but I recognized the love for them. It was the same love I felt. I also blame or credit that book for my love of London. Who wouldn't want to travel to London and try to find their own Marks and Co. after reading it? I think that is the world of book lovers I am still looking for when I travel there. I am convinced London is populated with well-read people working in wonderfully cramped and crowded bookshops with books in teetering piles all around them. The amazing thing is, it is sometimes true. When I find that bookshop, that moment of trueness, I am transported to the feeling I had when I first read Hanff's letters and realized there was a whole world of people who felt the same way about books as I did.

I recently read Ex Libris by Anne Fadiman and had the same feeling of recognition. Here, once again, was someone I understood, someone who loved books and words just as much as I do and is able to put that love into words and paragraphs that have me nodding my head in agreement the whole way through. My copy is full of sticky notes and I keep picking it up to reread favorite sections. Here is her description of how her family felt about books.

The Fadiman family believed in carnal love. To us, a book's words were holy, but the paper, cloth, cardboard, glue, thread and ink that contained them were a mere vessel, and it was no sacrilege to treat these as wantonly as desire and pragmatism dictated. Hard use was a sign not of disrespect but of intimacy. 

I also loved her chapter on "you-are-there" reading, the practice of reading a book in the place in which it is set. Obviously, this isn't always possible but who can deny the seductive appeal of reading Anne of Green Gables while sitting by the Lake of Shining Waters on Prince Edward Island? Or reading Persuasion in Bath where Captain Wentworth and Anne finally resolve their differences? Fadiman tells a charming story about her daughter.

When our daughter was four, she took her copy of Eloise to tea at the Plaza Hotel. Macaulay never fought at Thrasymenus. I never ran the Colorado River. But Susannah has actually hidden behind the red velvet curtains in the Grand Ballroom, slomped down the hallway on the fifteenth floor, and gotten dizzy in the revolving door with the P on it. When we got to the Palm Court, Susannah opened her book to page 40. Her eyes skittered back and forth between the plate of Gugelhopfen on the triple-tiered table in the picture and the plate of Gugelhopfen on the triple-tiered table in front of her. She didn't say a word. I knew what she was thinking. She was there. 

(Just so you know, that P in the quote is supposed to have a backward P in front of it but I have no idea how to achieve that so just use your imagination.)

I have to stop before I end up just quoting the entire book for you but here is one more for your enjoyment and so I can have the sheer pleasure of sharing it.

I can think of few better ways to introduce a child to books than to let her stack them, upend them rearrange them, and get her fingerprints all over them. It's a wonder to me that the young Diana Trilling, who had to wash her hands before she extracted a volume of Twain or Balzac from her parents' glass-fronted bookcase, grew up to be a booklover. Our parents' model was the playground; her parents' model was the operating room. By buying his set of leatherbound classics en bloc from a door-to-door salesman, Trilling's father committed the additional heresy, umimaginable to us, of believing that a library could be one-size-fits-all rather than bespoke. My brother and I were able to fantasize far more extravagantly about our parents' tastes and desires, their aspirations and their vices, by scanning their bookcases than by snooping in their closets. Their selves were on their shelves.

 It is true, books about books are some of the best books because it is always nice to meet another book lover. Have you any recommendations for books about books? (And really, there needs to be a word for that--books about books. Or is there already and I don't know it?)

Twenty-Seven Years

Barnes & Noble

Last week we celebrated our twenty-seventh wedding anniversary.

Twenty-seven years.

I might as well resign myself to the fact that we are no longer young.

However, for two not-quite-old-but-no-longer-young people, we managed to have a very good time. My parents offered to have the kids spend Friday night at their house and we decided to check into a hotel near them. Since we only had twenty-four hours it didn't make sense to spend four of those hours driving back and forth between our house and my parent's house. So we dropped the kids off, went out to eat, and then went to a bookstore. Because what else would you do on your anniversary? My husband is a good and patient man. I didn't actually buy any books because I didn't come across anything I just had to have and I don't really buy books I can easily get at the library. But it is always nice to browse.

The next day we went out for breakfast and then for a walk on the rail trail. It was a gorgeous, sunny day. We used to walk this trail all the time when the kids were little and we lived in the area. Sometimes I miss having little kids.

Vernon rail trail

Vernon rail trail


Vernon rail trail

Vernon, CT

We also stopped at a little park in the area and sat in the sunshine reading the newspaper and eating snacks. It was quiet and relaxing and exactly what we needed.

Northwest Park

Northwest Park CT

Then we went back to my parent's house for dinner. The kids were only moderately happy to see us since they felt one day was not enough time to squeeze in all the things they wanted to do. That's okay though. We felt the same way.

It wasn't an exciting anniversary. We didn't do anything amazingly special or go anywhere exotic. We puttered around doing things we have done a hundred times before. But, really, that is what made it special. After twenty-seven years we have the memories, the traditions, and the routines that we have built together.

And after twenty-seven years we are just happy to be together, browsing through a bookstore, walking a trail, and eating ice cream in bed.

The fact that we still feel that way after twenty-seven years is special enough for me.

Stories That Need To Be Told

Gravestone RI

Old cemeteries are full of stories. You can feel them, pressing all around you waiting to be discovered and told. There is the baby who only lived for 17 days, buried between her sisters. There is the even younger baby, six days old and never given a name. There is the man buried between his wives, one married shortly after the other died. Was it love or expediency? Was he lonely or did he need a housekeeper? There is the grave just on the other side of the fence with the name that isn't seen anywhere else in the cemetery. Where did he come from and why is he buried there all alone?

cemetery RI

cemetery RI

gravestone for baby RI

Gravestone RI

We pushed our way through the overgrown grasses, the yellowing ferns, and the briars that caught at our clothes. We crouched down, tracing the fading engraving with our fingers, and calling out softly to each other when we managed to decipher the names and dates. We pieced together the families and the relationships and told ourselves stories of what could have been and what might have happened.

autumn ferns

ferns and stone wall

Then we left, jumping down from the stone wall and brushing the leaves and grasses from our skirts. We left behind the stones and the names and the rickety fence. But we couldn't leave behind the stories. They crowded around us, begging to be heard, as we walked down the road.

Old cemeteries are full of stories. They just need someone to listen to them.

New England picket fence

autumn in New England