No Place Is Safe

I learned two things yesterday:
1. My husband doesn’t read this blog.
2. Even the linen closet isn’t safe.

I learned these at the same time when, sparring a bit over books, he told me he had discovered the books in the linen closet. I replied that I had wondered if he read my blog. He looked a little confused. No, he said, I needed toilet paper.

So, I had to explain that I had overflowed all the available spaces and had moved on to the linen closet in the hopes that he would not look there and that I was sorry I was hogging the toilet paper.

But the up side is that we are in the midst of planning a new home and I’m going to get a library complete with a wall of books to which I can attach a rolling ladder like this one. It’s like the one in Becoming Jane that I just saw in Pennsylvania. If I didn’t already have books to read, I’d add rereading Austen to the list.

I finished Dee Brown’s The Fetterman Massacre in a day or so. Amazing detail of the months leading up to the event itself and lots of heavy foreshadowing about who would die. It is really a snapshot of life on the edge of civilization and I just can’t believe that women and children went along! I’m not sure I would be willing in endure that hardship for sort of murky reasons. They had a much greater faith in themselves and their country than we do now. It was a dangerous faith that led to the destruction of the Native Americans whose own faith in their culture also contributed to the downfall. Two conflicting world views clashed in those lonely places. In a way, it reminded me of Hadrian’s Wall, by William Deitrich, which described a similar moment in a far distant continent.

And now, it is back to The Hemingses of Monticello by Annette Gordon. Jefferson is in Paris and sending for his youngest daughter who will arrive with Sally Hemings. When I taught middle school, we read a book about a supposed child of the two named Harriet. It was called Wolf By the Ears by Ann Rinaldi. It filled in, at least fictionally, some of the things that Gordon can’t tell us: what it was like to be owned by a blood relative and how it felt to have to decide between the two races.

Favorite Book Stores

Another long weekend, this time with my old English-teaching colleagues. It’s nice to spend a few days with equally addicted book lovers and readers. My hostess and I make our annual pilgrimage to what I would probably say is my favorite book store: Baldwin’s Book Barn near West Chester, Pennsylvania.

I walked away with several treasures, including a second, but rare, printing of Seven Pillars of Wisdom by T.E. Lawrence. This purchase was a direct result of the book to which I was listening on my trip up: The Tomb of the Golden Bird by Elizabeth Peters. Peters’ book is set during the season in Egypt when Tut was discovered. She gives some description of the political scene including the creation of Iraq. I wanted to learn more and Lawrence seemed like a good place to start despite the issues with his perspective.

What else is in my paper bag?

  • The Maple Sugar Book signed by both Helen and Scott Nearing
  • The Fetterman Massacre by Dee Brown
  • Grania: She King of the Irish Seas by Morgan LLywelyn
  • The Anglo-Saxon Chroniclesm translated and collated by Anne Salvage
  • A Man and His Garden by George Thompson, a history of Longwood Gardens

By the way, if you’re looking for good audio books, the Elizabeth Peters’ mysteries are terrific with Barbara Rosenblatt as the narrator.

Now, we’re off to the movies…my hostess is kindly seeing Julie & Julia again so I can see it for the first time.

What Pledge?

Some women sneak clothes into the house. I sneak books. Remember that pledge I made just three weeks ago not to buy any more books? Well, that was the day before Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol got automatically delivered to my Kindle. But maybe the Kindle doesn’t count as the book doesn’t take up any space. And space really is the problem.

Unfortunately, not everything I want to read or think I want to read is available on the Kindle. Plus, I harbor a real love for books themselves and the bookstores where they live. I love browsing bookstores, particularly ones with overflowing shelves and hand written reviews. The bricks and mortar experience is just different from buying online, which for me is a much more directive process. I go to Amazon to buy a particular book that I want to read. Thus, the pre-order for The Lost Symbol. And, I appreciate Amazon’s suggestions based on my buying habits.

But, in book stores, I encounter books that aren’t part of an algorithm. Books I didn’t think about looking for because I didn’t know they existed or, if I did, hadn’t thought about reading. Books that Amazon would have never suggested because they don’t make any kind of digital sense. Books in book stores are in their native environment, pushing up against each other, organized in a haphazard analog way that can never be as neat and tidy as an online database and thus opens immense possibilities.

I knew I would probably have to avoid bookstores if I was going to keep my pledge. And, I have plenty of books to read before the end of the year anyway and the beginning of the pile in the bedroom so I figured I was going to be OK. I am reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan, which I purchased before the pledge. I have a book to read for book group at the end of the month called Switching to Goddess by Jeri Lyn Studebaker that I had also purchased before the pledge. (Did I mention it was a feminist book group?) I also sort of accidentally bought Olive Kitteredge as I showed off my Kindle to someone. (“That’s what you get for showing off,” I can hear my mother say.) And, a friend recommended The Hemingses of Monticello, which I also bought on Kindle. So, plenty of books already in my possession and no book stores on the horizon.

All seemed well. Until last Friday afternoon. I spent this past weekend at my parents’ retirement community. They were having their fall festival and I was going up to help out with several events. Here’s what I didn’t know: as part of the fall festival, they have a huge used book sale. Boxes and boxes of used hard backs and paper backs that were only vaguely organized. A book browser’s dream. I must admit that I only thought about my pledge for about 30 seconds. OK, maybe not even that. All of a sudden, there was a book in my hand: National Geographic’s The Age of Chivalry. I don’t remember the second one or the third. And, while I believe there was an individual price for the books, I opted for the bag of books for five dollars scheme. I even had my own bag…at least for the first go round. It seems that the book sale opens the day before the actual festival, on Friday afternoon. So, I got an early look and pulled in some treasures including another National Geographic on the Renaissance. It made sense to have the set, right? I managed to get about eight books in my bag, I think.

On Saturday, I was determined to avoid the book sale, but it turns out that breakfast was served directly behind the sale and I had to walk past the long tables with their inviting cardboard boxes to get my croissant and coffee (which to my horror was decaf…that’s all they serve in retirement communities, it seems). My shift didn’t start until 9 AM so I found myself with an hour to kill and my undercaffeinated senses made me more vulnerable than usual, I think…well, I think you know the rest. Another 8 or 9 books found their way into a bag. I vowed that I was done buying books. But, then my sister arrived. We hit up the used clothes and then, just to be sociable, I accompanied her to the book sale. And, of course, I didn’t want her to feel bad about buying books so I bought a few more. Anything for my sister.

All in all I bought 30 books in those three trips! Mostly hard backs and ranging from And the Band Played On, Randy Shilts’ early history of AIDS to Wolfe’s Look Homeward, Angel, which I don’t think I’ve ever read. There are two PD James mysteries from two different series. Two last minute purchases included a paperback collection of Winston Churchill’s history of World War II and Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials Trilogy.

Here’s the problem. I simply don’t have any more shelf space. The 50 books for next year are stacked precariously in the bed room. The other shelves that line several walls in two rooms already have two layers of books. What to do? Aaah…a place my husband never ventures: the linen closet in my bathroom. I live in a tiny house that, miraculously, has two full baths, which means I get a closet all to myself. Some quick rearranging of sheets and towels, and most of the books disappeared without a trace. I put Churchill and Pullman on the shelf on the back of the bed since most of the books that had been there are on project pile. It occurred to me that I was well on my way into 2011 with these new additions. And, as I drove along the turnpike on my way home, I passed several bulletin boards warning about 2012. The pressure is on: which books do I want to read before the world ends? Reading time suddenly takes on a very serious edge, doesn’t it?

The Reading Project

It’s probably because I’ve been reading Julie & Julia, but I’m struck with the idea of turning something I’m going to do anyway into a project.  What am I going to do anyway?  Read.  What would the project be?  Simply to do what I’ve always tried to do…read 50 books in a year.  In this case, I have the 50 books in four piles in my bedroom.  They are the books I have collected over the past five years as I worked on my dissertation.  Don’t get me wrong: I never stopped reading non-academic materials.  According to LibraryThing, I read 55 books in 2008 and 46 books in 2007.  Some of them were school-related but many were personal interest.  So, 50 books just represent a year of reading for me.

In the past, as I worked on my 50 books, I didn’t have a set reading list but simply moved from one book to the next.  Sometimes, I read books in a series (such as Sharon Kay Penman’s historical fiction set in the 13th century) but I’m definitely a grazer.  These 50 books never came under my nose I guess.  Some are very new…just purchased at the Book Exchange last week with points from my summer trade ins.  Others have been laying around for a while, as long as two or three years, and come from a variety of places.  There are four or five Wendell Berry books, both fiction and nonfiction, that came from a great book store in Lexington, Virginia, along with Drew Gilpin’s This Republic of Suffering.  There are lots of books from another great book store in Roanoke, Virginia.  And a few from Baldwin Books in West Chester, Pennsylvania.

I’ll get the whole stack in LibraryThing and tag them “unread.”  I’m going to use the rest of 2009 to finish up some loose ends and then begin on the pile on January 1, 2010.  I think I’m going to start with David McCullough’s biography of John Adams.  I’ll be on winter break from William and Mary and can curl up be the wood stove and relive the birth of America.

I’m also making a pledge not to buy any more books until I’ve read all 50 of these books.  Hmm…not sure I can do it.  Books for book group could be an exception. Why this worry over books?  My house is stuff with them, and I’m just trying to reduce stuff in general.  I’m definitely a bibliophile and my book shelves provide insight into the story of my life.  But I can’t just keep collecting.  I need to start reading.

And that’s why this needs to be a project.  Because of the fear I have that I will somehow lose track of my love of reading.  Several people have told me that they didn’t read anything for a year after they finished their doctorates.  And I do find myself often putting reading aside to engage in other activities.  I don’t want to NOT read but I find myself stymied by the books on the shelves so it may take several days for me to choose a new book.  And despite paying for Kindle subscriptions to the New York Times, the Washington Post, and several magazines, I rarely read any of them.  I’m hoping a project will help.  I’m also hoping that limiting my choices to just 50 books will make it easier to choose and read books.

What about the newspapers and magazines?  I never got into the habit of reading the newspaper every day.  I have a print subscription to US News and World Report and do glance through that, but I certainly don’t read it from beginning to end.  Then there’s the weekly education newspaper and several research journals.  The words are piling up around me and I’m feeling the pressure.  How do people find time to read a newspaper every day?  Actually, as part of my first job as a press office secretary at an art museum, I read three or four papers every day looking for articles related to art.  I did a lot of skimming.

I’m not sure where newspapers and magazines fit into my day?  Lunch time?  Take a work break and at least do some skimming?  I’m discovering that the hardest part of working from home is adopting some kind of schedule.  People with real jobs have a built in schedule but I’m a free agent.  I have projects to finish but no one cares if I work on them at 2 PM or 2 AM.  Just so I get them done.  The danger, of course, is that you can work all the time so working in things like reading the newspaper is a way to take breaks.

So, I’m pledging my self to reading.  I’ll report the results here.  Now, I’m heading to bed with a book; in this case, it’s How God Changes Your Brain.

Travelogue: Salisbury

Had a leisurely breakfast and then took the ten-minute walk to downtown Salisbury.  We found the cathedral and spent time wandering through its transcepts and chapels.  The cathedral also houses one of the best copies of the Magna Carta.  I was a little disappointed in my pictures but you just can’t do justice to these amazing buildings.

Travelogue: Church Yards and Abbeys

We spent our last night in Wales at the Baskerville Arms Hotel in Clyro, walking distance from Hay-on-Wye.  The hotel takes its name from the Arthur Conan Doyle story and some believe he drew his inspiration from stories in this area.I took an early morning walk through the church yard.  We had been seeing them along the drive and walked through a few with their old trees and grave markers.  This one was lovely with ivy covered stones, the view of the Welsh hills beyond, and the old village houses on all sides.

Then, it was ruined abbey day.  We started at Tintern Abbey, along the Wye River.  It’s amazingly well preserved despite the lack of a roof.  The interpretation is very good; they really help you visualize what it looked like in the 12th century.  It wasn’t crowded and I found myself waiting for the monks to come from the chapter house.  Took time to read Wordsworth’s poem out of the volume I bought in Hay-on-Wye the day before.  We had lunch at the little tea room across the road.  Despite having beautiful weather to see the Abbey, it started to rain and hail so we stayed for an extra cup of coffee and I had a slide of Banoffee Pie.  Then, it was a quick dash to our car and on to Glastonbury.

The weather was awful as we cruised the motorway.  Rain, then a little snow even.  We wondered if it was worth heading to Glastonbury but we persevered and by the time we got there it had stopped raining and the sun came out.  Glastonbury is where the monks found the supposed grave of Arthur and Guinevere and I felt like I had to make the pilgrimage.  Of course, it might have just been a 12th century hoax to bring money to an ailing community.  The site is marked even though the stone and remains are gone.  Glastonbury, like most abbeys including Tintern, was basically torn down during Henry VIII’s disolution.  All the good stuff–windows, lead, decorations–were taken and sold.  There is little left of Glastonbury but it is still an impressive ruin sitting right in the middle of town.

Because of its ties to Joseph of Arimathea and Arthur and Merlin, Glastonbury has turned into something of a new age town.  Lots of magic shops and flyers advertising healing and tarot readings.

We made it into Salisbury without incident.  We are staying at the Rokeby Guest House, an Edwardian brick house which is just a ten-minute walk to the city center.  We made the walk last night to eat at Harper’s Restaurant.  Had a lovely supper and today we are ready to explore the cathedral.

Travelogue: A Rainy Day in Wales

We headed down the coast from north to south Wales on a rainy, dark day.  We stopped at the Trefriw Woolen Mills for some shopping.  I managed to find a few things…a couple sweaters on the sale rail that were hand knit and a lovely bag.

Then, it was on to Criccieth Castle, along the coast.  It should have been just a 20 minute drive but we ran into the world famous Snowdonia Marathon.   We followed the runners along with lots of other traffic for almost an hour.  And a hardy lot they were as they plowed along through gusty winds and driving rain.

The rain let up as we reached the castle although the wind continued.  I was determined to see a Welsh castle, one used by the Llewelyns so my father and I trudged up the hill.  While there seems to be some controversy about the castle’s origins, CADW, the Welsh historic trust (it means “care” in Welsh), seems sure that it was built by Llewelyn ap Iowerth and then added onto by his grandson and successor Llewelyn ap Gruffydd, who had been imprisoned here by his half-brother Dafydd as they fought for control of Wales.  It was prehaps the most stunning of the castles even though it was in the worst shape.  The wind whipped around us as we looked over the castle walls out to Tremadog Bay.  We had a real sense of the wildness of Wales and its long history.

We ended our day at North Headborough, a bed and breakfast located on a farm near Haverfordwest.  It is located on a small holding complete with sheep and chickens.  I had my first English breakfast.  We got back early and enjoyed just relaxing in the lounge.  South Wales is just beautiful with its rolling green hills lined with hedge rows and dotted with sheep.  I took a walk around the farm and watched the sun rise over the hills.

Travelogue: Pembrokeshire

The south of Wales seems a little less wild than the north.  We explored St. David’s peninsula, beginning with Pembroke in the north and then St. David’s, Britain’s smallest town, in the south.

Pembroke Castle is known as the birthplace of the Tudor Dynasty.  Of all the castles we visited, it is the most restored with floors in the towers that can be reached by the winding stone stairs.  There were extensive exhibits on both the history of the castle as well as England itself.

From Pembroke, we headed north to St. David’s to visit the cathedral and the ruins of the bishop’s palace next door.  Our drive took us along St. Bride’s Bay and we stopped at Solva for lunch.

The cathedral is lovely.  It is built on the site of a monastery originally built in the 6th century.  Tradition says that St. David was born in the town in 5oo AD.   The cathedral became a popular pilgrimage site during the middle ages.  Throughout its long history, it has been attacked by Vikings, nearly destroyed during the Reformation and almost abandoned in the 20th century.  We wandered through its chapels, appreciating the tombs of nobles and knights as well as its treasury of church relics.

Behind the cathedral are the ruins of the bishop’s palace.  Built by Bishop Gower in the 13th century, you can see the remains of large rooms and imagine how it must have looked when the bishop lived there.  It is quite picturesque and well sign posted.

We went into the tiny town of St. David’s and had tea at The Sampler Tea House. We haven’t had official tea yet so this was a nice way to end the day.  There was a warm fire in the cozy shop, which featured embroidered samplers, and we ate cucumber sandwiches, scones, and Bara Brith, traditional Welsh fruit cake.

Travelogue: Hay on Wye

I am something of a bookaholic so friends recommended that I visit Hay-on-Wye, the book store town.  It made a nice stopping point between south Wales and Salisbury.  We arrived around noon and started with a lunch at the cozy Blue Boar pub.   The town has new and second hand bookstores throughout its winding, narrow streets. There is also an extensive “honesty” bookstore…basically book shelves around the castle that offer paperbacks for 30p and hardbacks for 50p.  I picked up Paul Theroux’s The London Embassy from those shelves.  I bought an old copy of Wordsworth in another story.  It seemed appropriate since our visit to the Lake District and Dove Cottage.  Also found an anthology of poetry about London in another shop.  Finally, I couldn’t resist The Secret Diary of Anne Boleyn that I found in the book store located in Hay Castle.

Travelogue: North Wales

Today was castle day on the trip.  We started with Conwy Castle, located just a few minutes away from where we are staying in the seaside resort of Colwyn Bay.  The town of Conwy has its wall in tact and the castle was built by Edward I in the late 13th century as part of his plan to subdue Wales.  We arrived just in time to take a guided tour.  Neil, our tour guide, was fabulous!  I learned more about defending castles than I had ever known.  He also added to my knowledge of Welsh history and the rocky relationship of England and Wales.

We ate lunch across from the castle then strolled into the center of town to see the statue of Llewelyn the Great, who almost succeeded in uniting Wales against the English.

From Conwy, we crossed the Menai Strait to Anglesey to visit Beaumaris Castle, the last castle built by Edward I.  It was never completed but offers fabulous views of the town and the straits.  Our lessons from the morning helped us understand what we were seeing.

Again, we strolled into town, this time to find the sarcophagus of Joan, the wife of Llewelyn the Great, which is in the Beaumaris Parish Church.   I found myself wandering through another lovely churchyard then looking at spectactular stained glass windows while the organist practiced inside the church.

We returned to Colwyn Bay and I took a walk along the water.  We had a lovely dinner at the Rhos Harbour Bistro.