Wednesday, December 30, 2015

2015 Reading Stats and 2016 Reading Plans


The other day I created a spreadsheet of what I think I read in 2015. For several years now I've been rather lazy about keeping track of my reading, relying on my not always consistent use of Goodreads and my memory (insert eye roll here). I plan on being more organized in 2016.

Reading 52 books a year is my long-standing annual goal and I haven't hit it the last two years. In 2014 I read 42 books and in 2015 it looks like I read only 41. It's been a busy, adventurous, and also emotionally turbulent two years. Here's hoping for continued adventures in 2016 but much less emotional upheaval.

Some Reading Stats from 2015:
  • 41 books read
  • 22 by women, 19 by men
  • 8 published in the 19th century
  • 12 published in the 20th century
  • 21 published in the 21st century
  • 11 published in 2015 (rather shocking to me--I had no idea I read that much new stuff!)
  • 10 review copies (explains the surprising number above, but one review copy was originally published in 1862)
  • 4 ebooks
  • 3 audiobooks
  • 3 in translation (lower than I would like)

Reading Plans for 2016:

I'll stay on the path of aiming to read one book a week. To help keep me on my toes I'll have three go-to challenges or focus areas:
  1. Read books I already own will be my primary focus for the year. I'm joining Andi in her quest to #ReadMyOwnDamnBooks.
  2. Continue to read from my Classics Club List.
  3. Participate in the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016. I've participated in this challenge before and look forward to jumping in again, but will take it easy on myself and aim for the Stella level (read four book and review at least three of them). Plus, I know I own at least four books by Australian Women Writers that I haven't yet read which will merge nicely with my first focus.

What kind of reading plans do you have for 2016?

Wishing you all a very Happy New Year!

Monday, December 14, 2015

Holiday Gift Recommendations

Looking for some off the beaten track gift ideas for the voracious reader in your life? Here are some recommendations that might do the trick.

FOR THE CONTEMPORARY FICTION READER
Also LGBT/Womens Studies/Religion/Nigeria/International Fiction
Under the Udala Trees by Chinelo Okparanta 
A beautifully written novel in the bildungsroman tradition about a girl who is abandoned by her parents due to war and who almost abandons herself due to social norms. Weaves in both Nigerian folktales and biblical themes. 


From the publisher: "Inspired by Nigeria’s folktales and its war, Under the Udala Trees is a deeply searching, powerful debut about the dangers of living and loving openly. Ijeoma comes of age as her nation does; born before independence, she is eleven when civil war breaks out in the young republic of Nigeria. Sent away to safety, she meets another displaced child and they, star-crossed, fall in love. They are from different ethnic communities. They are also both girls. When their love is discovered, Ijeoma learns that she will have to hide this part of herself. But there is a cost to living inside a lie."

Source: I read this one courtesy of NetGalley and highly recommend it. Okparanta is a writer to watch.


FOR THE CLASSICS READER
Also Writers/Philosophers/Class & Gender Issues
Martin Eden by Jack London
Bibliophiles and writers will probably find this lesser known London novel unputdownable. It takes readers through the wringer, but Martin Eden's love affair with books, ideas, writing, and a girl is definitely unforgettable.
From the publisher: "The semiautobiographical Martin Eden is the most vital and original character Jack London ever created. Set in San Francisco, this is the story of Martin Eden, an impoverished seaman who pursues, obsessively and aggressively, dreams of education and literary fame. London, dissatisfied with the rewards of his own success, intended Martin Eden as an attack on individualism and a criticism of ambition; however, much of its status as a classic has been conferred by admirers of its ambitious protagonist."
Source: I bought a copy after fellow blogger Thomas Otto (Hogglestock) recommended it to me this summer. Just finished it last night and my mind is swirling from the fallout.


FOR THE MYSTERY/THRILLER READER
Also Writers/Memoir
Reacher Said Nothing: Lee Child and the Making of Make Me by Andy Martin
It's like a ride-along in a police cruiser, except you're with a best-selling thriller writer. 

From the publisher: "On September 1, 1994, Lee Child went out to buy the paper to start writing his first novel, in pencil. The result was Killing Floor, which introduced his hero Jack Reacher. Twenty years later, on September 1, 2014, he began writing Make Me, the twentieth novel in his number-one- bestselling Reacher series. Same day, same writer, same hero.
     The difference, this time, was that he had someone looking over his shoulder. Andy Martin, uber Reacher fan, Cambridge academic, expert on existentialism, and dedicated surfer, sat behind Lee Child in his office and watched him as he wrote. While Lee was writing his Reacher book, Andy was writing about the making of Make Me.
Reacher Said Nothing is a book about a guy writing a book. An instant meta-book. It crosses genres, by bringing a high-level critical approach to a popular text, and gives a fascinating insight into the art of writing a thriller, showing the process in real time. It may well be the first of its kind."
Source: Bought a copy when I was out book shopping with my friend John Valeri, aka The Hartford Book Examiner. John saw if first and I had to buy a copy, too. Just started reading it and think fans/thriller readers/and writers will find it fascinating.


FOR THE NONFICTION READER
Also History/Military/Political Science
Base Nation: How U.S. Military Bases Abroad Harm American and The World by David Vine
Did you know the U.S. military has close to 800 bases world-wide, many in other countries? Next to the U.S. is France and England who, between them, have only 14 bases on foreign soil. Vine argues that our current policy and presence overseas actually makes the U.S. less safe in the long run. 


From the publisher: "Overseas bases raise geopolitical tensions and provoke widespread antipathy towards the United States. They also undermine American democratic ideals, pushing the U.S. into partnerships with dictators and perpetuating a system of second-class citizenship in territories like Guam. They breed sexual violence, destroy the environment, and damage local economies. And their financial cost is staggering: though the Pentagon underplays the numbers, Vine’s accounting proves that the bill approaches $100 billion per year.     For many decades, the need for overseas bases has been a quasi-religious dictum of U.S. foreign policy. But in recent years, a bipartisan coalition has finally started to question this conventional wisdom. With the U.S. withdrawing from Afghanistan and ending thirteen years of war, there is no better time to re-examine the tenets of our military strategy."
Source: Originally checked out from library, purchased a copy. Currently reading it. A headline I saw last week highlighted that there are now talks of creating even more U.S. bases in Africa and the Middle East to combat ISIS.

OTHER IDEAS
Literary magazine subscriptions are an option and are a gift that keeps giving throughout the year. Here are four I've enjoyed over the years:
Bookmarks Magazine
World Literature Today
Mystery Scene Magazine
Legacy: A Journal of American Women Writers (academic)

Memberships or Donations
If you're hesitant to buy a book for the voracious reader in your life (because you're afraid they've already read everything), consider a membership to a museum that maintains the legacy of a writer they may love like The Willa Cather Foundation or The Mark Twain House & Museum (or shop online at their websites for fun literary swag). Such memberships often come with a monthly or quarterly journal featuring news and current research. Also potentially a gift that keeps giving throughout the year.
 
Or, if you want to get something for someone who has everything and doesn't want anything else entering their home (de-cluttering fiends), perhaps make a donation in their name to The American Writers Museum, which is scheduled to open in 2017, or to a local literacy organization or library.

Ho, Ho, HoHappy Holidays!



Sunday, December 6, 2015

Classics Club Spin #11

It's time for another Classic Club Spin! I haven't always followed through on actually reading spin picks, but this time I'm committed! This will help kick off my 2016 focus on #ReadMyOwnDamnBooks.

How it works: Classic Club moderators will chose a number between 1-20 on Monday, December 7th, and participants will have until February 1, 2016 to read the corresponding book from their list.

I put some big chunksters on the list because two years ago I started off the year with reading The Count of Monte Cristo and it set a nice tone for the rest of my reading year.

Here's my list:
  1. Don Quixote
  2. The Monk
  3. Ivanhoe
  4. The House of the Seven Gables
  5. Les Miserables
  6. War and Peace
  7. Crime and Punishment
  8. Anna Karenina
  9. The Bostonians
  10. A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court
  11. The Education of Henry Adams
  12. So Big
  13. The Magic Mountain
  14. Goodbye to All That
  15. A Testament of Youth
  16. The Grapes of Wrath
  17. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
  18. From Here to Eternity
  19. Catch-22 <------ #19 chosen! Wish me luck!
  20. Ship of Fools
If you want to start or get back into reading classics, check out The Classics Club

Friday, December 4, 2015

Book Buying Hiatus Reconsidered and #ReadMyOwnDamnBooks

I went a little overboard buying books this year. Used books, new books, so many books!

Part of this is due to having new bookshelves in my office. Whee! More book space! Part of it is due to all the great library tent sales in my area. Part of it is due to discovering Elliot's Books earlier this year. And another part of it is due to exploring New England and visiting bookstores, like the Harvard Book Store in Boston where last month I found some gems in their used section after meeting up with fellow blogger Cass for the first time (thanks for the tour, Cass!).

Cass in Harvard's Widener Memorial Library

Books, books, books. Binging on books.

Toward the end of any binge one starts to have that over-saturated feeling coupled with a need to start doing something else. In the case of my book buying binge, I eventually started wanting to READ these new-to-me books more than I wanted to bring home more books from yet another sale or bookstore to pile on top of previous purchases. Confession: when a stack of new books comes into the house they almost always hang out on my office floor for a while--sometimes they're there for just a few days before making it onto a shelf, other times a few months. I don't know why. It just happens that way. It doesn't matter where I've lived and it has nothing to do with a lack of bookshelf space . . . apparently I'm just a floor stacker.

Current floor stacks
A few months ago when the glow of the book binge started to fade, I started thinking that perhaps I'd take a book buying hiatus in 2016. When I've mentioned this to friends some nod with understanding and others look at me with shock and horror. I myself vacillate between these two reactions.

I went on a book buying hiatus several years ago when we were saving every penny we could for our impending move from Illinois to Connecticut. It was really hard for the first several months. I found myself suddenly having to read a new release that had 100+ holds at the library. Gee, guess I have to buy it! And speaking of the library, I found myself going to the library more than usual those first months (like 2-3 times a week) and checking out a ridiculous amount of books at each visit, more books than I could possibly read, but it satisfied that new book feeling. Eventually I relaxed and focused on reading. It was a delight to finally read some of the books that had been on my shelves for years.

So I was seriously leaning toward taking a book buying hiatus in 2016 when Andi announced her own plan to #ReadMyOwnDamnBooks. I am so with her on this. There are several really good challenges out there that focus on reading the books one already owns or a TBR list, but what resonates with me about Andi's is that there are no rules, you make up your own rules if you want to have any. Since I usually fail at reading challenges, participating in one that is based on my own rules is perfect.


And my own rules are that I will have no rules. My wife claims that I often take things to the extreme (e.g., buying every book in sight versus not buying any). So, I have decided not to take a book buying hiatus for 2016. Next year my intention will simply be to read more of the books I already own (the road to hell be damned). I will, however, try to be more mindful about why I want to buy a book  before automatically skipping to the register.

Glad that's resolved.

Are you making any reading plans for 2016?


Monday, November 30, 2015

What To Do When It's Your Turn and The Courage to Start. Or, What is Courage?

My boss gave me a copy of Seth Godin's new book, What To Do When It's Your Turn, the day after I committed to a new business adventure with my wife yet before I told him I'd be leaving his employ by the end of the year. I felt a twang in my heart that he didn't yet know my intention, but mainly I felt excited because I thought that receiving this book at that time was a HUGE sign of support from the universe. I have since told my boss of my plans and he's completely supportive. Of course he is, he gave me a book about taking my turn.

What To Do When It's Your Turn is a motivational read. It is a shot of adrenaline for those who want to take the leap and start doing their own thing on a bigger level and a nudge for others to start thinking about what they can do with their passions. It's also a flashing warning sign for those who want to stay comfortable in the illusory safety of someone else's dream. The format is more like a magazine or blog post--short, page or two stories and rah-rah quotes.

But there's something that rubbed me the wrong way in this book. It is just one thing, but for me it was a big thing. In a book filled with positives Godin dropped a negative: He claims that John Bingham, someone else who took his turn, got it wrong.

Godin writes, "John got is slightly wrong. It's not that he had the courage to start, because no courage is required to run around the block. No, the miracle is that he started" (95).

John Bingham is considered the Pied Piper of the second running boom and the author of The Courage to Start: A Guide to Running for Your Life (1999). I enjoyed Bingham's writing as a columnist for Runner's World. I came upon his work when I was in my early thirties -- after years of sedentary life as a college and graduate student, I was getting back into running after swearing it off upon being honorably discharged from the Marine Corps a decade earlier. Bingham helped me fall in love with running, an activity I had previously only associated with training or punishment.

Godin is not the first guy to rip on Bingham for associating courage with running. Years ago one of my favorite running podcasters went on a rant about how it doesn't take courage to run (he saw Bingham's book in a store). I listened to part of his rant and was taken aback. I thought he was way off base and switched over to a different podcast, but the rant stayed on my mind like images of a bad accident. The guy's anger seemed so irrational and I was drawn back to listening. I thought--or rather, hoped--that perhaps he would come to some sort of personal revelation or at least a sane conclusion. He did not. It was a rant from start to finish and it seemed to have an undercurrent of bullying. I never listened to that podcaster again.

Apparently both that podcaster and Godin have a trigger when it comes to ideas about courage. I'm not sure what that's about, but it seems that they both have have narrow definitions of courage. Definitions that might be limited to facing enemy bullets or running into a burning building (activities that may have more to do with personality type, training, and love more than courage if you listen to the stories of people who've actually done these things).

What To Do When It's Your Turn is about expressing on one's freedom to take action, which, to my mind, may take courage. I find Godin's judgement both surprising and problematic. Perhaps because I don't think anyone has a right to label someone else's action as courageous or not. Unless you give out medals based on your own definition of courage, if someone says that something they did was courageous for them, then it was. Period. End of story. This negative take on Bingham's use of the word courage seems off key, particularly because it is in a book that encourages readers to get out there and do their own thing.

And at the risk of sounding like I'm on a rant of my own, why say no to courage and yes to miracle? Courage is taking action in the face of fear. A Miracle is something given as a divine gift or something so extraordinary it is beyond logic or probability. It seems that an author who wants to help people take action might be better off encouraging courage rather than miracles.

Chances are I would not have reacted to Godin's comment on Bingham had I not listened to that podcast years ago. It seems odd to me that two men who are usually so encouraging of others would feel the need to condemn or criticize another guy for apply the concept of courage to running.

What's your take in this issue?

Monday, November 9, 2015

Stolen Years: Stories of the Wrongfully Imprisoned (Giveaway)


Why I read it:
Years ago a friend's ex-husband did something that could have landed him in prison. He'd been desperate, but, still, had broken the law. Around this time I was reading in bed one evening, my cat snuggled against my leg, when I was overwhelmed by the thought of what it must be like to go to prison. I shivered, then got up, grabbed a beverage and a snack, and snuggled back into bed with my book and cat, resolving to never do anything to land in prison.

But what if you land in prison for a crime you didn't commit? It couldn't happen to you, right?

In Stolen Years journalist Reuven Fenton tells the story of ten people who didn't think it could happen to them either. Yet these ten people were wrongfully convicted for crimes they didn't commit. These eight men and two women spent a combined total of 176 years in prison. The shortest time was nine years, the longest thirty. Can you imagine?

Reuven Fenton
False accusations, eyewitness miss-identification, false confessions made under duress, improper forensic science, and official/government misconduct are what wrongfully put these people behind bars. Studies estimate that between 2.3 to 5 per cent of people currently serving time in U.S. prisons are innocent. That's up to around one hundred thousand people wrongfully convicted. Not only are the inmates' life ruined, but the impact on family and friends is monumental. Not to mention that the real murders were left to walk the streets.

These stories are compulsively readable yet I found myself only able to read one or two per sitting. It's overwhelming to read about real people who are plucked out of their lives and thrown into a nightmare. At the heart of the matter is a legal system that's based on winning or losing rather than justice.

In his conclusion Fenton offers suggestions on how to change the system, what reforms some states are already implementing, and what citizens can do to help. One of the easiest things citizens can do is thank journalists who write about people who have been exonerated and share the stories on social media. Doing this will help keep the focus on such stories. The more the public learns about problems in the justice system and begin the put pressure on elected officials, the sooner reforms will be implemented. Visit innocencenetwork.org to learn more.

Stolen Years is a quick read that will stay with me for a very long time. I highly recommend it to readers who are new to the issue of wrongful imprisonment and/or interested in our criminal justice system. It will no doubt make for interesting book group discussion.

Stolen Years: Stories of the Wrongfully Imprisoned
Reuven Fenton
Tantor Media, Inc. Release date: November 10, 2015
Available in paperback and audio
Source: Review copy provided by TLC Book Tours.

**GIVEAWAY**
Simply leave a comment with your email to enter to win a paperback copy of this book.
(US/Canada only)
Winner will be randomly chosen on Monday, 11/16, and will have 48 hours to reply 
before alternate winner chosen.

To read more about this book and visit other blogs on this tour (with more enter-to-win options), please click here.




Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Nonfiction November ~ Week 1


Nonfiction November is a month long focus on reading nonfiction books. It's hosted by multiple bloggers this year. Kim at Sophisticated Dorkiness is the host for week one.

The topic this week asks participants to look back on the year and share some thoughts on their reading life.

Here goes!

What was your favorite nonfiction read of the year? 
I've only read six nonfiction titles so far this year, which seems a bit low compared to previous years, but I haven't done any number crunching yet. They are:
  1. Talking About Detective Fiction by P.D. James
  2. Under Magnolia: A Southern Memoir by Frances Mayes
  3. Rowing Against the Wind by Angela Madsen
  4. The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
  5. Hiroshima by John Hersey
  6. Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson

It's tough picking a favorite out of this group because they were all good, solid books, but since I'm tasked with choosing one I'll go with Anne Frank's Diary. For starters, its been on my TBR forever. It's one of those books I didn't want to read for a long time and then I wanted to read it, also for a long time. It was amazing to finally read it and I'm glad the 40-something version of me read it rather than the teenage me, because I don't think it would have been as profound or as moving to my younger, less thoughtful self. Unless, perhaps, my reading experience was in the hands of the "right" teacher. And by "right" teacher I mean someone who is not only an excellent teacher of teens, but someone I had a crush on. Like most people who've read Ann Frank's diary, I was stunned and felt ill when it ended so suddenly. It was a sublime reading experience for me, both joyful and horrific.

What nonfiction book have you recommended the most? 
Probably The Hot Zone: The Terrifying True Story of the Origins of the Ebola Virus by Richard Preston. I've recommended it to people I know well and to complete strangers back when I was a bookseller. I've never had someone come back and tell me they just couldn't get into it. It's one of those books that makes you feel like you've been through the wringer and also learned a few things along the way. I want more people to read In The Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex by Nathanial Philbrick, which is probably my favorite nonfiction book of all time (movie based on the book is coming out in December). Also  literature lovers and writers might be fascinated by Max Perkins: Editor of Genius by A. Scott Berg. Perkins edited F. Scot Fitzgerald, Thomas Wolfe, and Ernest Hemingway, among others. Read the book now before the movie starting Colin Firth as Perkins comes out (supposedly in 2016).

What is one topic or type of nonfiction you haven’t read enough of yet? 
True crime or nonfiction about crime and crime fiction. I'm a fan of crime fiction, but there's something about the idea of reading true crime that makes me shudder. I once flipped through a book about suicides and murders in the 1930s or 1940s and almost passed out in the middle of the bookstore. Seriously, I had to sit down and breathe for a while. I'm currently dipping my toe in the water by reading Stolen Years: Stories of the Wrongfully Imprisoned by Reuven Fenton. It's a collection of ten short biographies about people who've served years or decades in prison for crimes they didn't commit.

What are you hoping to get out of participating in Nonfiction November?
To reignite my reading and my blogging. I've read some good books this year, but I've been rather listless about both my reading and blogging. I'm looking forward to having a focus this month and seeing what everyone else is reading & recommending.

Do you have any nonfiction reading plans this month? 

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Patricia Cornwell's New Release: Depraved Heart

Kay Scarpetta and her crew are back. Depraved Heart was just released yesterday (10.27.15) in the States. It's the twenty-third entry by Patricia Cornwell in her ground-breaking Scarpetta series.
From the publisher: Dr. Kay Scarpetta is working a suspicious death scene in Cambridge, Massachusetts when an emergency alert sounds on her phone. A video link lands in her text messages and seems to be from her computer genius niece Lucy. But how can it be? It's clearly a surveillance film of Lucy taken almost twenty years ago.

As Scarpetta watches she begins to learn frightening secrets about her niece, whom she has loved and raised like a daughter. That film clip and then others sent soon after raise dangerous legal implications that increasingly isolate Scarpetta and leave her confused, worried, and not knowing where to turn. She doesn't know whom she can tell – not her FBI husband Benton Wesley or her investigative partner Pete Marino. Not even Lucy.

In this new novel, Cornwell launches these unforgettable characters on an intensely psychological odyssey that includes the mysterious death of a Hollywood mogul's daughter, aircraft wreckage on the bottom of the sea in the Bermuda Triangle, a grisly gift left in the back of a crime scene truck, and videos from the past that threaten to destroy Scarpetta's entire world and everyone she loves. The diabolical presence behind what unfolds seems obvious - but strangely, not to the FBI. Certainly that's the message they send when they raid Lucy's estate and begin building a case that could send her to prison for the rest of her life.
Depraved Heart takes place within 24 hours, much of that time is inside Scarpetta's head. The action picks up two months after the end of the last novel in the series, Flesh and Blood (2014). Scarpetta is recovering and still in pain from getting speared in the leg while scuba diving a wreck in the Bermuda Triangle during her last case.

The day starts with Scarpetta and Marino investigating what was initially thought an accidental death and morphs into a strange trip down memory lane. A trip that may have devastating consequences for some in the present. Videos are texted to Scarpetta's phone, videos that she can't pause or save. She's riveted to her phone and we're riveted to the page. Then there's an FBI raid on Lucy's estate. A law enforcement officer goes missing. It all seems to be a game, or trap, constructed by an old nemesis, someone the FBI has declared dead.
Cornwell

A colonial era home in Boston, Lucy's state of the art estate in Concord, agent housing in Quantico, and flash-backs to diving the wreck in the Bermuda Triangle are the back-drops of this story.

As usual cutting edge technology plays a central role. Have you heard of Data Fiction? It's when a hacker covers their nefarious tracks by creating false information that gives the appearance of the status quo. Say they do it with your bank account. You look at your account and see regular debits and credits, but in "reality" your money is long gone and by the time authorities are notified, so are the criminals. Or how about the idea of criminals creating their own invisibility cloaks using materials that render them invisible to the naked eye and security cameras? Harry Potter's invisibility cloak was fun and came in handy, but in the possession of a criminal master mind who also happens to be a depraved serial killer, it's not so cute.

Cornwell fans will be thrilled to read another entry in the series. I was left wondering exactly who is really responsible for what. Who is doing what and why? How much is the work of the old nemesis and how much does Lucy know? What has Lucy done? Is Janet going to become a bigger player in this series? And what's up with Benton? Sometimes I wonder why Scarpetta even stays with him.

I have no idea how this book would read to someone coming to the series for the first time. Would it be more gripping because you don't know the characters? Would it be confusing because much of what goes on hearkens back to prior books? I'd be interested to hear from readers whose first experience with Scarpetta is Depraved Heart.

So now here we go again: waiting a whole year to get some answers to these questions.

Title: Depraved Heart
Author: Patricia Cornwell
Publisher: William Morrow
Source: Review copy provided through TLC Book Tours.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

The Mount: Edith Wharton's House

On Saturday my friend Emily and I drove up to Lenox, MA for an evening storytelling event at Edith Wharton's house, The Mount.* We planned to arrive a couple hours prior to the event to visit the house and have dinner in town. I had to work earlier in the day and we arrived at The Mount only fifteen minutes before closing time.

The Mount viewed from the flower garden.
Still in bloom.
That's my friend, Emily, at the foot of the steps leading up to the east facade of the house. Although the house closed promptly at 5pm, the gardens remained open for visitors to enjoy.
This manicured limestone walk runs parallel to the east side of the house. At one end is the flower garden, which is more French and English in design, and at the other end is a walled Italianate garden that is much more rustic.
A picture taken just outside the Italianate garden, looking back at The Mount. I'm standing next to one of the columns. Can you see me?
The entrance or forecourt where carriages and later automobiles dropped off guests or waited to whisk Edith away for a drive in the country.
Forecourt wall detail.
The sign reads: "Edith Wharton at The Mount. 'We have to make things beautiful; they do not grow so of themselves,' Edith Wharton, The Decoration of Houses, 1897. Edith Wharton's short decade at The Mount (1901-1911) was a period of tremendous change, self-discovery, and personal turmoil. Amidst it all, she built a home, a persona, and a world rooted in beauty and structure. Always the writer, Wharton transformed even her innermost emotions into words that continue to be as fresh and compelling today as when first written."
From the staircase looking toward the gallery.
Edith Wharton's bed, from which she did much of her writing. It was here that she wrote The House of Mirth, one of my all time favorite novels.

The view from Edith Wharton's bedroom.
Edith and her husband Teddy often traveled with their dogs. Here's one of their carriers.
The dinning room table set for guests. The sign reads: The Inner Circle: Friends & Family: Edith Wharton liked her tables round, her lights low, and the conversation sparkling. The dogs were always invited.
Although we did see Wharton's famed library, the lights were already off so I didn't attempt a photograph. I am tantalized, however, by the idea of a private tour of Wharton's library.

A quick note of thanks to the kind docent who showed much patience with us as we dashed from room to room trying to squeeze in just a few more sights as she was trying to do her job and close up the house for the night.

I look forward to going back for an official tour of The Mount and spending some time soaking up the beauty and ambiance of this historic home and gardens. Tours are conducted throughout the day through October 31st. My next visit may have to wait until the spring when the house opens again in May.

Until you can schedule your own visit, or perhaps to refresh memories of your last visit, enjoy this introductory video to The Mount and visit edithwharton.org for more information about Edith Wharton's house, life, and writing.

 
 
The Mount
2 Plunkett Street
Lenox, Massachusetts 01240-0974
413-551-5111


*The storytelling event was a Speak Up event by Matthew & Elysha Dicks held at The Mount's stables.

Friday, October 16, 2015

The Morgan Library and Hemingway Exhibit, Manhattan, NYC

My mom visited from Chicago a couple weeks ago and we went to check out the Hemingway exhibit at the Morgan Library and Museum in Manhattan. I was excited to finally visit the Morgan Library. I first learned about Pierpont Morgan's collection and his library in the Newberry Library's seminar on the History of Library Architecture that I attended a few years ago.

Mom at the Morgan
Mom is originally from Germany and first read Hemingway in German as a young woman. I've been a fan of Hemingway's writing since she recommended I read A Farwell to Arms when I was in my early twenties. Mom's recommendation and my subsequent reading healed a wound from a high school English class reading of The Old Man and The Sea. I would like to note that while we both admire Hemingway's writing, the more we've learned about his behavior and character the less we appreciate the man. And while I loved my high school English teacher, I question his choice of The Old Man and the Sea when there are so many other Hemingway stories that are more accessible for teens. Sadly, my teacher passed away before we could have that conversation.

The exhibit focuses on Hemingway between WWI and WWII. It's a fascinating exhibit for those interested in Hemingway's writing--his life experience, subject matter, and process. The exhibit is at The Morgan through January 31, 2016 and after that it is heading to Boston. Hard-core Hemingway fans should definitely also make a pilgrimage to his birthplace and museum in Oak Park, IL.
The court of the Morgan Library and Museum building is a modern addition--beautiful wood floors with lots of glass, metal, and stone. The stairs leading to that small door is the entrance to Morgan's study and library.
It's rather a shock to walk through the cold and bright modern design of the court where everything is hard and echos into this warm, soft study where everything is muffled.
I can imagine how cozy this room must have felt with a raging fire in the fireplace on a cold winter's day.
The rotunda between Morgan's study and library.
George Washington's face, plaster cast, made in 1785 by the French sculptor Jean-Antoine Houdon. On display in the rotunda. Washington was alive when this cast was made, it is not a death mask.
The library. Simply breathtaking.
These pictures do not do justice to the beauty and calm of this room.
Bookcase, brass door detail. Morgan collected a lot of Goethe.
My eye kept being drawn to this well-lit statue of St. Elizabeth of Schonau (1129-1165), a German nun who published three volumes describing her divine visions. Lindenwood with polychromed and gilt decoration. Early 16th century.
In a room where there are so many treasures, this one made me say "wow" out loud. The manuscript of Beethoven's tenth and last violin and piano sonata (op. 96 in G Major, 1815) completely captured my imagination. Morgan purchased it in 1907.
Mom in what was once the librarian's office--a smaller room off the rotunda, between Morgan's study and library. It now features artifacts from the ancient world.
Click here to read a room by room summary of Morgan's library and see some before and after pictures of a major restoration completed in 2010.

The Morgan Library and Museum
225 Madison Ave, New York, NY 10016
themorgan.org/about/history-of-the-morgan

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Library Visit: Forbes Library in Northampton, MA

Forbes Library
20 West Street
Northampton, MA 01060
forbeslibrary.org

  • Built in 1894 by Judge Charles E. Forbes
  • Cost: $113, 993.48 (that's about $3,240,000.00 in current dollars)
  • Designed by William Brocklesby
  • Read more about the library architecture and see some historic photos.
  • Library geeks will be interested to know that the first librarian of the Forbes was Charles Ammi Cutter who created the Cutter Expansive Classification System.
Photo from the library's website (source)

This visit was a quick pit-stop on a drive from Connecticut to Vermont. We got off I-91 to stop at a visitor's center that we somehow missed. That was lucky for us as we stumbled upon this handsome library while driving around Northampton, MA.

Not only is the Forbes Library some delicious late 19th century architectural eye candy, it also houses the Calvin Coolidge Presidential Library & Museum. Coolidge was the thirtieth president of the United States. The Forbes is the only public library to hold a presidential collection. Check out their Coolidge Museum Blog.

Cookies With a Curator is a new monthly program at the library. Historical documents, photos, and memorabilia are displayed for participants to view, learn about, and discuss. What a great way for citizens to learn about the history of Northampton.

I intend to return for a more leisurely visit, but for now here are some photos from this first visit.

Facade detail.
Foyer and grand staircase.
Now and then. Time changes everything.
A study area to the right when you walk in, across from the staircase.
I love the contrast of the graceful, curved white arches with the boxy dark book stacks.
Digital catalogs are amazing tools, but card catalogs still make make me feel warm and fuzzy.
The back of the library from the parking lot.
We'll be back to explore the library in more detail and also to visit some of the sites in Northampton like First Church, Jonathan Edwards's home church, and Smith College.
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