Category Archives: What Pleases Me

Words to Stir Us Up


I recently heard Adam Goodheart talk on the Leonard Lopate show on WNYC about the music of the Civil War. Social historian and author of the recently-released book, 1861: The Civil War Awakening, Goodheart talked about how the music of the 1860s roused people politically and spiritually but in response to Lopate’s question of what was “the rock ‘n roll” of 1861 America — what stirred people up for change — he said that Americans of the time were most moved by the words of poets and authors, not by music. There was stirring music, sure, but it was literature that really got people going. People from all sorts of households all around the country memorized entire poems and long excerpts of literature. The novels of Sir Walter Scott, the poems of Tennyson and Wordsworth: words stirring people up. As Goodheart explained it, the poems and novels of the still influential Romantic movement “spoke to their souls”, and “like the knights of Sir Walter Scott, [they undersood] going out and putting their lives on the line for a great cause.

150 years later and I feel, as those mid-century Americans felt, the power of the written word and the flow of strength that comes from memorized passages and excerpts. I know what it is like to be stirred by words and I am lucky enough to know how words – in books – can pick me up and heal me. How they can set me back on my feet, facing forward and ready to move on, hopeful and hearty. I hope the words of poets and authors offered the solace needed after the Civil War, after over 600,000 Americans had died, fighting each other, and after the assassination of Lincoln. I hope so, and I am sure of it: just read these words offered by Walt Whitman after the conclusion of the war, an excerpt from When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloomed:

Passing the visions, passing the night,
Passing, unloosing the hold of my comrades’ hands,

Passing the song of the hermit bird and the tallying song of my
soul,
Victorious song, death’s outlet song, yet varying ever-altering
song,
As low and wailing, yet clear the notes, rising and falling,
flooding the night,
Sadly sinking and fainting, as warning and warning, and yet again
bursting with joy,
Covering the earth and filling the spread of the heaven,
As that powerful psalm in the night I heard from recesses,
Passing, I leave thee lilac with heart-shaped leaves,
I leave thee there in the door-yard, blooming, returning with
spring.

I cease from my song for thee,
From my gaze on thee in the west, fronting the west, communing with
thee,
O comrade lustrous with silver face in the night.

Yet each to keep and all, retrievements out of the night,
The song, the wondrous chant of the gray-brown bird,
And the tallying chant, the echo arous’d in my soul,
With the lustrous and drooping star with the countenance full of
woe,
With the holders holding my hand nearing the call of the bird,
Comrades mine and I in the midst, and their memory ever to keep, for
the dead I loved so well,
For the sweetest, wisest soul of all my days and lands-and this for
his dear sake,
Lilac and star and bird twined with the chant of my soul,
There in the fragrant pines and the cedars dusk and dim.

Words to stir — and to settle — the soul.

Treat for Readers: Treason at Lisson Grove

Anne Perry’s latest novel starring the intrepid Charlotte Pitt and her perfect Pitt husband (and with lovely long intervals of the marvelously unflappable Aunt Vespasia), entitled Treason at Lisson Grove, is an absolute treat of a read. As always Perry provides an entertaining foray into Victorian England and a marvelous and intelligent plot of intrigue and mystery. This time around it is the Irish question combined with the revolutionary goals of nineteenth century Socialists (Rosa Luxemburg plays a part) combined with Pitt’s own sworn loyalties that create an absolutely mind-spinning, teeth-gnashing, breath-holding ride of a read — a ride that is fun and lovely and thrilling, and in the end, completely and utterly satisfying. Hurrah for England, the Queen, and the Pitts.

Set in France, at St. Malo; in Ireland, at Dublin; and in England, both at home in London and on the Isle of Wight at Queen Victoria’s beloved retreat, Osborne (see photo), Treason at Lisson Grove not only serves as a thoroughly engaging read but also a lovely travel guide to places I would very much like to visit. Now at least I’ve been there in the nineteenth century, thanks to Perry.

Loving My Local Library

Today the libraries of Connecticut are celebrating “Snapshot Day: One Day in the Life of Connecticut Libraries.” Snapshot Day is sponsored by the Connecticut Library Association, the Connecticut State Library, and the Connecticut Library Consortium. Its purpose is to illustrate the huge role played by local libraries in their communities by capturing exactly what goes on in each library on this particular day. There is nothing special about today, it is just a typical day in April, and yet there is always something going on at the library.

Last year was the first year of Snapshot Day, with 136 libraries in Connecticut participating. On that day:

More than 80,600 people visited Connecticut libraries.
People borrowed nearly 100,000 books, DVDs and other materials.
Close to 13,000 people used computers at their library.
Nearly 10,000 people attended a program or class at a library.
113,000 people visited Connecticut library websites.

I know I’ll be swinging by my local library today, to drop off books that are due and to check out the express table, laden with new releases that can be borrowed for only three days — I love the time frame and the mandate to sit down and read! I’m sure I’ll run into at least one person I know. Maybe we’ll have time to grab a coffee in the Shakespeare cafe and catch up or maybe it’ll just be a quick, “What are you reading now?” before we head off on our own ways.

It is that wonderful question of “what are you reading now?” that hovers over all great libraries. I host a book chat at the Westport Public Library the first Tuesday of every month, an informal and VERY LIVELY gathering of people of all ages and backgrounds, men and women, who just want to talk about books: what we’ve read lately, what we’d like to read. We don’t always agree on books, and we read a great variety of genres: but we all want to talk about books. Why this need to talk about books?

Because when we talk about books, we can talk about anything at all and everything. Nothing is taboo – just ask the Book Chat crew! Last week we discussed books all right — Emily, Alone by Stewart O’Nan was a hot topic — but we also talked about Snooki, the real housewives of here and there, starting our own used bookstore in Westport, and ponerology. Do you know what ponerology is? It is the science of evil: the name was given by Polish psychiatrist Andrzej Łobaczewski to explain his work of trying to understand the psychopathic underpinnings of evil regimes.

Stewart O’Nan and his beloved Pittsburgh; housewives; Jersey Shore; bookstores; evil. We can talk about anything when we talk about books – and we do.

Why do I love my library so much? Because it is the place I can go to find books, talk about books, and read books. With a cafe on site, there is nothing I need when I am at home, in my local library.

Book Love as Fashion Accessory and Life Statement

Next week I am scheduled to give a talk about my year of reading a book a day and my own upcoming book, Tolstoy and the Purple Chair. Although not exactly the kick-off to my magical book tour (Tolstoy and the Purple Chair doesn’t come out until June 7), and certainly not the first time I’ve spoken to a group about my year of reading, next week’s talk will be a first for me. It will be the first time I indulge in a newly-discovered thrill: book love as fashion accessory. Fashion as a statement of book love.

What do I mean? I mean that my inner love of books can now be displayed in my outerwear. I am planning on a black dress for next week’s talk. Why not add both flair and a display of book love with nifty To Kill a Mockingbird earrings, from Designs by Annette:

An afternoon reading can be livened up by a white and blue pin that says it all, from The Light Fantastic.

For Sunday events, I’ll opt for a shirtwaist dress and a favorite author on my chest, choosing perhaps a well-known image of Virginia Woolf from Sujette.

Friday nights, I prefer my accessories to swing. A black t-shirt provides perfect background to this fellow we all know and love, set as a pendant and available from Inknpaint.

I look forward to summer readings, maybe even outdoors, appropriate for linen dresses and these whimsical rosettes, crafted from book paper and felt, made by Nellie and Elsie.

A school event is best accompanied by these bold bracelets, reminding students to be brave in their reading and in their lives. Made by Carolyn Forsman, they celebrate reading as an act of both independence and comraderie:

I can wear one of the fabulous t-shirts available from Out of Print Clothing ANYWHERE, and to ANY kind of book event (even my favorite kind of book event, reading in the backyard all by myself). Not only are these t-shirts great to look at, and surefire conversation starters, featuring iconic and often out of print book covers, but for every Out of Print t-hsirt purchased, a book is donated to a community in need.

I am bowled over by all of these original and clever statements of book love. No matter where I may go on my magical book tour, there will always be a fashion choice appropriate for the occasion. But perhaps my favorite fashion statement of all is the carrying of a book. Book tucked under my arm, hopeful determination on my face, a bounce in my step: fashion statement as a shout-out of appreciation to writers and publishers and booksellers everywhere.

No matter how I do on my Magical Book tour in trying to spread the message of Tolstoy and the Purple Chair about the power of books, I know that at least my accessories will get the message across: book love is the only accessory, in fashion and in life, that I will ever need. Because with love of books, everything is possible.

The Passions of Matt Roeser: Reading and Imagining New Covers for Beloved Books

The graphic artist Matt Roeser has one passion I can identify with — reading — and another I wish I could emulate: creating beautiful new cover art for great books. With my artistic skills, I could never match the beauty, wit, and originality of Roeser’s work but luckily for me — and for you — we are all free to enjoy his fabulous creations via his blog, New Cover. I love his site and have a few suggestions to send his way of great books needing new covers.

Visit Roeser’s New Cover and find new delights in old favorites. I especially liked these three. What do you think?

Sharing Books: How and Where to Give Your Books Away

There was an article today in The Hour, my local paper, about spring cleaning. The article quoted Leslie Josel, a home organizing expert, as saying “Of all the stuff I try to get rid of as an organizer, books are the most difficult. They are not usually worth much money and they are heavy, which makes it even harder to find someone who wants to take them.” Argh! To steal a concept from Mastercard, while secondhand books may be cheap in value, they are priceless in what they can offer. Adventure, escape, wisdom, comfort, humor. All that and more can be found through sitting down and reading. As I’ve written before, “most books have an audience somewhere who are pleased and comforted and transported by the words contained within.”

So how do we get our no-longer wanted books into the hands of someone who very much wants them? Readallday began as a book exchange site, a place where books in need of a home could be connected with homes in need of books. I am going to revive the book-sharing aspect of this site, adding in permanent links to great organizations that can help you deliver your books to people who would love to have them, around the world. (See left-hand sidebar.)  The organizations include groups that provide used books to shelters, prisons, and schools, including Darien Book Aid Plan (which also supplies to the Peace Corps) and Books for America. There are also organizations who will send your used books to U.S. soldiers overseas, including Operation Paperback and Books for Soldiers.

So get the books you no longer want into the hands of a hungry reader!  Satisfaction: priceless.

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