THE PERSONAL LIBRARIAN + Book of the Month

I was very honored that Book of the Month posted one of my pictures today on their social media. It was a photo of this fantastic book about J.P. Morgan’s assistant, Belle da Costa Greene, who helped build the J. Pierpont Morgan Library in New York City in the early 1900’s.

THE PERSONAL LIBRARIAN is a celebration of art and ancient book manuscripts and Gutenberg bibles. I actually stopped midway through the book to re-watch The Monuments Men, which took place during a different time period but always gives me the same debt of gratitude for those who have gone to great lengths to preserve and uphold the honor in art.

You will stop and Google dates and names and it will spark an even deeper appreciation of the importance of the fine arts. This book will certainly be one of my top favorite books this year. Authors, Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray, went to great lengths to research this novel. Each author’s note in the back of the book were fascinating to read in order to see how they went about collecting Belle’s story as well as information about the beginnings and early days of the library.

Extraordinary. Extravagant. Empowering. Thought-provoking. This would make an excellent book club read and discussion. I highly recommend this book about a section of our history you may not know much about. I will be thinking about it for a very long time.

Thank you, Book of the Month, for using my picture but mostly for bringing to the forefront a life story that needed to be told.

Sidenote: I have been a BOTM member for five years and have very fond memories of the catalogs that used to come in the mail to my parents each month. I read the book descriptions in awe and thought that BOTM must be the most grown up thing you could possibly do. What a dream to have books sent to you in the mail, I imagined! I’m so glad I get to enjoy them now. Each month is a new adventure that begins with an exciting blue box waiting for me at my front door.

Another sidenote: the decadently delicious waffles were a new recipe that my DEAR husband was trying out. It very quickly went into the MUST MAKE AGAIN section of our recipe file: whole wheat waffles with bananas and walnuts baked inside. (They’re practically health food.)

SING, UNBURIED, SING

This family drama was true southern prose full of spirits and stories and spells. Sin and family and forgiveness. No one dies quite like a southerner, taking their specific cooking and unique lineage, leaving us our heritage and pockets full of stories to embellish for many generations to come.

“…. sorrow is food, swallowed too quickly, caught in the throat, making it nearly impossible to breathe.”

This was a book with a strong second half. I appreciated the lyrical writing and ghostly references only a southerner could fully appreciate.

fines are no longer fine

I started a new jigsaw puzzle and am in that never-mind-it’s-too-hard-put-it-all-back-in-the-box stage. It’s a puzzle of classic paperback book covers.

USA Today published an article recently about library fines and how much they impact those who can least afford the fines or the punishment of no longer being able to check out books. Library fines are an insignificant amount of a library’s annual budget. In San Francisco, for example, they collected $300,000 in fines for a $138 million dollar budget. As a result, they did away with the fine system. 160 other libraries have since opted out.

In an increasingly volatile world, libraries offer so much more than books. Whether it’s free WiFi or resume help, patrons turn to the library as a source of information on many levels. As well as a familiar place of community.

“Sometimes going back to an old book is like going back to an old friend.”

library love.

Feeling very…sentimental…today about all the trips to the library I’ve made in my lifetime. The excitement never changes. I am so deeply appreciative that libraries have coped and adapted so that we can still sail to other lands while huddled safely in our homes.


Thank you from the bottom of my heart, library systems. Your work is enormously essential.

THE INVISIBLE LIFE of ADDIE LARUE by V. E. Schwab

What is it about my weirdo brain that says, ‘Oh…this is a really popular book out there in the world? Then let’s be sure and NOT read it yet.’ What? Why??

Whatever mental defect I have, it happens every time a book skyrockets to popularity. But I’ve heard so many fantastic things about this one, maybe it’s time I ignore myself and dive in? What do you think?

Have you read it? Did it live up to the hype?

INTIMATIONS by Zadie Smith

I didn’t check to see what this book of essays was about before starting to read it. Some respected people recommended it, so I opened the front page with no expectations.


I found a collection of essays filled with reflections on the first half of 2020. Unique reflections. Powerful comparisons. But all with room enough for me to think about other perspectives and process my own 2020 experience.

Powerfully beautiful essays, not overindulgent in trite hope nor overwhelmingly oppressive in gloom. I closed the back cover, filled with new insight.

Finding Calm

These are a few books that have meant a lot to me personally during this pandemic season. I find reliance on the liturgy comforting when you don’t feel like praying. Leaning into ancient traditions (even rote memorization) gets you through at times when your heart just isn’t in it.

I especially recommend the book, Flee. Be Silent. Pray. by Ed Cyzewski. I’ve found a great deal of comfort (and shame release, to be honest) reading this book. It’s no accident I bought it right before the pandemic.

“Find a space for walking with God”, Cyzewski writes. Thomas Merton wrote about the moment he walked into his monastery to stay for the first time: ‘Brother Matthew locked the gate behind me and I was enclosed in the four walls of my new freedom.’”

Has Quarantine 2020 been our own monastery? Has it forced us to slow down, to engage more authentically with each other, to pay closer attention to the blatant injustices that have been hiding in plain sight? I keep using the phrase ‘Quarantine as monastery.’ That’s what it’s felt like to me. I’ve been stir crazy at times, yes. But I also have come face to face with Greta in a way I haven’t taken the time to do before my regular routines were broken apart. I’ve learned some ugly traits and I’ve seen talents I have stepped around too often before. I am processing my own prejudices and I’ve embraced a forced contentment with less. I’ve found, through this pandemic of all things, the newly available space to walk intentionally each day with God. I want to go to movie theaters and hug people and travel, but I don’t want my ‘quarantine monastery’ to disappear too quickly. Or to be forgotten too easily. My mind and my heart still has so much work to do. In time. No hurry. Let’s have just one more chai together as I continue to try to memorize this nightly prayer:

‘Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Attend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest for the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love sake. Amen.’

THE STUFF OF LIFE by Hilary Robertson

The past few days have been spent in between the pages of this beautiful book from called The Stuff of Life: Arranging Things Ordinary and Extraordinary. I can hardly make it through two pages without jumping up and rearranging something or another around my house. Tweaks here and there. I’m a bit too picky about home interiors books. But I had a feeling about this one and I have NOT been disappointed!

Londoners capture mood like no one else in the world.

HORSE CRAZY by Sarah Maslin Nir

I smiled when I received this gifted book from Simon & Schuster. My daughter loved horses so very much when she was growing up. She even volunteered at a local stable before she was old enough to officially work. I can’t wait to read this memoir. Seems a perfect escape from the extreme peopleness of people right now. An equestrian escape might be just what the therapist ordered.

The official PR description says it best: ‘Acclaimed journalist and avid equestrian Sarah Maslin Nir began riding horses when she was just two years old and hasn’t stopped since. Horse Crazy is a fascinating, funny, and moving love letter to these graceful animals and the people who—like her—are obsessed with them. It is also a coming-of-age story of Nir growing up an outsider within the world’s most elite inner circles, and finding her true north in horses.’

Sounds like a perfect book to settle down with on a cool, September afternoon.

MUSICAL CHAIRS by Amy Poeppel

“To drink coffee on my stoop each morning and gin on the roof at night…” – Will, commenting on what he loves about living in New York City

MUSICAL CHAIRS was an enjoyably quick and entertaining read and my first Amy Poeppel book. It has been sitting on my shelf for a few months now, and honestly – I was a little thrown off by the cute cover. My brain (…feeble as it is…) registered this as a YA book. I was wrong. 

As a musician nerd in high school and college, I enjoyed the perfect music-snobbishness in this book. Musical arts can be so high brow, each of us thinking we’ve rediscovered the most subtle art of listening to and participating in the creation of music. But the arts in New York City? Welllll, you’ve just raised the stakes even higher. Poeppel captured this tone with humor and accuracy.

Bridget and Will are the best of friends. They are two members of a classical musical trio in NYC. Will plays the piano, Bridget the cello and the position of violinist is an oft-revolving seat for newcomers. Taking some time off during the summer, Bridget heads to her family’s country home in Connecticut with hopes of romance and reading and quiet, lazy summer days. Through various happenstances, her two grown children end up moving home to find themselves and her anticipated summer love ends up breaking her heart and never arriving. While Bridget nurses her own dismay, her children bring their love woes to the table, topped off by home repairs and questions of her musical future just as her elderly father (a renowned pianist/composer) announces he’s getting married.  How will the summer play out??

The stories each evolve and intertwine with humor and accident and forgiveness. Secrets revealed. Grace offered. Relationships sway and strengthen.

small spoiler ahead…

As Bridget’s father, Edward, gives the toast at his wedding I resonated with it completely. My father (…also named Edward and a pianist – go figure) remarried after my mother died 11 years ago. He chose another interesting and fascinating woman (lucky him to strike gold twice). They have traveled the world and continue to explore and live interesting and fulfilling lives. 

Edward’s toast included these words:

Bertrand Russell said, “Man needs, for his happiness, not only the enjoyment of this or that, but hope, and enterprise, and change.” Edward discusses the musical score he wrote decades ago called Synchronicity and compared it to the Victorian dances of generations past. “Life is a perfect combination of chance and choreography. Imagine a group of people come together and delight in the act of re-arranging themselves into new configurations. One person turns, leaving a space, upsetting the arrangement, but the other dancers follow suit and they all align themselves anew. For a moment they are all in motion, shifting and crossing over, until a new constellation forms giving way to a moment of equilibrium… before it all begins again.” 

This was such a beautiful example of the totality of our lives. There is balance, then upset, then a new equilibrium settles in. A grand dance. We are in constant movements of reinvention. This can be very reassuring when we are in the middle of the rearrangement parts of our life. It will fall into place again soon once the right people turn and sway into new alignment.

Lord Tennyson reflects: “Death closes all. But something near the end, some work of noble note, may yet be done.”

Certainly an admirable goal in life: A work of noble note.

 

* Thank you, Atria Books, for this advanced reader copy.

 

THE VANISHING HALF by Brit Bennett

I was glad to finally be able to sit down with this Book of the Month feature and all-around popular Bookstagram book, The Vanishing Half.

The concept intrigued me. Stella and Desiree are twins and both born light-skinned Black. Both of them wanting to escape the confines of their small town and to live a fuller life experience, they run away to New Orleans. But one twin, Stella, after easily passing as White, decides to leave her twin and join a race that was not quite her own, but one in which she had fewer limitations. Even Stella’s husband is unaware of her true racial identity.

Negroes always love our home towns even though we’re always from the worst places. Only White folks got the freedom to hate home.

From the 1950s to the 1990s, this interwoven, generational story captured my imagination with thoughts of ‘what if it were me‘ as well as ‘how could she do that?!‘ indignations. Just what the author, Brit Bennett, was aiming for, I’m predicting. What decisions lead us to live lives filled with secrets? Are they our decisions that determine that trajectory or are they the decisions made long before we are born? What masks do we each carry daily?

THE VANISHING HALF was an engaging story that explored racism, abuse, wealth and poverty as well as familial relationships and the ongoing dichotomy of mother-daughter relationships. How do we determine and define ‘family’? While provocative and a page-turner, VANISHING seemed to wrap up quickly and ended fairly abruptly and open-ended.

Perhaps I always think this, however, about characters I’ve invested in…