Ode to Jane Austen

Last month I had the wonderful experience of visiting Jane Austen’s home in Chawton, England, in Hampshire. Her house is on the main street in the little village of Chawton, and it was a lovely autumn day for wandering throughout her home, with costumes from recent Jane Austen films interspersed throughout the rooms. One room had an exhibit about “Jane Austen in love.” I especially loved seeing the colorful wallpaper, with shades of yellow and green, throughout the house. Outside of the house was a peaceful garden, as well as a wonderful gift shop, full of books, tea, fudge, ornaments, and even Jane Austen ducks!

We ate lunch across the street at “Cassandra’s Cup,” named after Jane’s sister Cassandra, which had teacups hanging from the ceiling, and a delicious variety of paninis.

From there we strolled up the street to Chawton House, which was owned by Jane’s brother Edward.

“Lucky Edward” was adopted into the Knight family, relatives of Jane’s family. Jane and her mother and sister often visited Edward at Chawton House, and they attended the little church nearby, St. Nicholas Church. Jane’s mother and sister are buried in the church yard there.

Chawton House houses the research library of The Centre for the Study of Early Women’s Writing, 1600–1830, using the building’s connection with Jane Austen. While we were at the house, there was a wonderful exhibit about women travel writers.

While I can’t claim to have read all of Jane Austen’s books, it was wonderful to delve into her life, and learn a lot more about this amazing woman writer, who is one of the best known and loved authors of all times.

Maine Collection at the Long Island Community Library

Most public libraries in Maine have a Maine collection – books about Maine, and books by Maine authors. My guess is few of them have as nice of a reading nook as our island library has – two comfy chairs and reading lamps in a cozy little alcove, where one can leisurely explore all sorts of books about our beloved state. The Long Island Community Library has a wonderful selection of Maine books, including fiction, non-fiction, biographies, and children’s books.

Our books range from obscure authors to more famous authors, such as classic authors (Sarah Orne Jewett, Elisabeth Ogilvie, Kenneth Roberts, Booth Tarkington, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Robert Peter Tristram Coffin, Louise Dickinson Rich, Gladys Hasty Carroll, Mary Ellen Chase, Ruth Moore, May Sarton, Ben Ames-Williams, Henry Beston, E. B. White) and contemporary authors (Stephen King, Paul Doiron, Cathie Pelletier, Carolyn Chute, Tess Gerritson, Charlotte MacLeod, Richard Russo, Elizabeth Strout, Julia Spencer-Fleming, Monica Wood). We also have Long Island authors, such as Alix Kates Shulman, Peter Kilgore, and Dorothy Herbert.

Our children’s books authors and illustrators include Margaret Wise Brown, Ashley Bryan, Barbara Cooney, Robert McCloskey, and many other classic authors and contemporary.

Non-fiction subjects include maritime/nautical/sailing, environmental, flora and fauna/gardening, cookbooks, art, crafts (knitting, rug hooking, etc.), poetry, and history.

We also have a nice collection of more ephemeral materials related to local history, including Long Island.

So, next time you are at our island library, take a minute to peruse the shelves in our nook, and perhaps sit in a rocking chair to enjoy a bit of Maine.

If once you have slept on an island…

Some of you may be familiar with the beginning of a poem by Rachel Field, “If once you have slept on an island, You’ll never be quite the same.” I recently read a book about this Maine woman writer, that allowed me learn more about Rachel Field’s life, including her life on her beloved Sutton Island. The Field House: A Writer’s Life Lost and Found on an Island in Maine by Robin Clifford Wood, dispelled my false notion of Rachel Field being a sweet little old lady in a rocking chair knitting. Obviously I knew nothing about her, but that must be my impression of some of these Maine women writers, especially those who wrote children’s books. The real Rachel Field (1894-1942) was a sophisticated cultured woman who actually spent more time in New York City and California than at her Maine island home. And sadly, although she was sweet, she didn’t live long enough to be old (and she didn’t appear to be little). Now when I see one of her books, or hear the familiar phrase, “If once you have slept on an island…” I will have a different picture in my head of Rachel Field.

Aside from the Maine woman writer aspect, which I always enjoy learning about, I liked this book for the dual story – the thread between Rachel and the author, with the island home of Rachel Field tying them together. What a treasure for Robin to live in the home of this author, to really absorb her history, and to be enchanted enough to feel the call to write her biography. Truly a labor of love. I liked reading Robin’s letters to Rachel – you can feel the emotion. And I enjoyed reading about Robin’s research and visiting sites related to Rachel.

Rachel Field is best known for the Newbery Award–winning Hitty, Her First Hundred Years. I finally read this book several years ago, and liked it so much that it made my top 10 books read in 2018. Several of her books were made into movies. She was quite prolific, writing novels, non-fiction, poetry, and drama.

For those of us who are not only lucky enough to be able to sleep on an island, but to live on an island, Rachel Field is worth a second look.

Cat tales: Feline fancies from the homes of the Nancys

Curated by Nancy Berges and Nancy Noble 

with assistance from their feline friends, Henry and Josie

Our new exhibit at the Long Island Community Center is all about cats!

We have cats made of glass, wood, ceramic; stuffed cats, rocks; cat cards and books; paintings of cats. We have cats made by local artists (Butch Kilgore, Ginny Stowell), and cats made by Maine artists (Nancy Maiello, Andersen Design). And cats from as far away as Mexico and Canada!

We have useful cats (in the form of a mug, paperclips, piggy (Kitty) bank, teapot, doorstop, snack tray, salt and pepper shakers, socks, bag, wine glass, towel, fly swatter, and jewelry (pins, earrings, bracelet, pendants, and a ring holder). But some of our cats are purely decorative! We have a cat footprint (in memory of Sheba Berges), and cats that belonged to “Catman Mike” (Michael Kilgore). We even have St. Gertrude of Nivelles, the Patron Saint of Cats.

Art and Soul returns

We’re back! After a several year hiatus, Art and Soul is back – on Saturday, July 16th. Come shop at the used book sale, delight over baked goods, bid on that piece of artwork that will go in that perfect space on your wall, and purchase a raffle ticket for one of our beautiful baskets. We even have Beanie babies for sale! We are working hard getting the library ready for a busy day.

Brenda’s Book Box

What a wonderful place we live! Long Island now has a new outlet for books, sort of like a “Little Free Library.” In this case it’s a pink painted refrigerator, called “Brenda’s Book Box.” Located at 604 Fern Ave., this little library was lovingly made by Brenda’s husband Dave.

Brenda’s mission is to encourage reading and exchanging of books:

➢ FEEL FREE TO TAKE A BOOK

➢ LEAVE A BOOK (GOOD CONDITION)

➢ WHEN YOU’VE FINISHED BOOK – PLEASE PASS ON OR RETURN IT BACK TO “BRENDA’S BOOK BOX” FOR THE NEXT READER

➢ I’D BE HAPPY TO PICK UP ANY BOOKS IN GOOD CONDITION AT YOUR HOME/COTTAGE – MY # IS 207-650-5354

So, next time you are out for a walk, be sure to bring a book to swap… at Brenda’s Book Box!

10 years of LICL blogs

This month I celebrate 10 years of writing blogs for the Long Island Community Library – it’s been a joy and a privilege, and allows me an opportunity to blog about subjects near and dear to my heart, including our island library, books, and reading.

The posts are a variety – some just share information, and some are more thoughtful and original. We love having guest bloggers, such as when Lorinda Valls wrote about a trip to Monroeville, Alabama, home of Harper Lee, and Nancy Jordan wrote about the theme of “death of a husband” in literature.

At one point I began an annual blog in January about favorite or notable books that I enjoyed reading in the previous year. An occasional series I started was about authors on the bay, including Dr. Chuck Radis and Kim MacIsaac on Peaks Island, Stephen English and Anne Weber on Great Diamond Island, and our own Charlie Adams.

Various topics caught my interest over the past 10 years, such as books about coffee and tea, and books about Scotland, Ireland, Australia, The West, and Daphne DuMaurier’s Cornwall. Other topics related to literature included books and films about game wardens, pandemics, gardening, world religion, cats, poetry, bicycling, travel, knitting, pilgrimages, war, autism, food (memoirs), mobile librarians, orphans, booksellers, and porches.  Even “Famous men’s wives and lovers in literature” found its way into the blog. I explored topics related to books: Little Free Libraries, book clubs in Portland, Maine authors and poets (Ben Ames Williams, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Richard Blanco, E.B. White), seed libraries, Goodreads, and a few blogs about accessing books during Covid, when we were sadly without our usual access to favorite libraries and bookstores.  

I wrote about island libraries in Casco Bay (Chebeague, Cliff, Peaks, the Diamond Islands) and beyond (Matinicus). I wrote about libraries in Portland that can be walked to from the ferry, and libraries I encountered on my vacations, including in the Adirondacks and Nova Scotia. I profiled our own library’s programs, including our major fundraiser: Art and Soul.

I was able to highlight our exhibits in the small meeting room case, including exhibits about rocks, birds, Long Islanders (publication of the Long Island Civic Association), the history of our island library, the history of photography, Portland pottery, record albums, the Bunny Hop,  Anne Kilham cards, Beanie babies, first ladies, fans and valentines, cookbooks, and plates of barns. At Christmas we often had special holiday exhibits about cookie cutters, snowmen, Santa’s Village, Christmas ornaments and decorations, Advent calendars, a ceramic nativity set, often highlighting items made by or collected by islanders.  

Some of my more esoteric topics include “Which is better, the book or the movie?,” revisiting classic books, and common themes in books.

Curt Murley set up the WordPress site for blogging in May of 2012, and contributed the first blog about the library used books table – a few days later was my first blog about films that take place in Paris. I’m not exactly sure how it came about that I volunteered to write the blogs. I seem to recall Maggie Carle, in our library board meeting when we first talked about writing blogs for the library website, saying how difficult it is to keep blogs going –  so I’m very pleased that I’ve been inspired to write about something every month for the past ten years. Many thanks to the faithful few who actually read these blogs – I hope you enjoyed reading them as much as I enjoyed writing them!

A fellow island library – Matinicus Island

My bucket list includes a visit to Matinicus Island. Some people think Long Island is the wild frontier, but of all the populated Maine islands, Matinicus seems like the one that is especially on the edge of civilization.

A recent article in the Bangor Daily News, more about banned books than about the library, brought to light this small island’s tiny library. It was picked up by the Smithsonian magazine, NBC news, NPR, Portland Press Herald. One of the best articles is by author Eva Murray, on the Maine Boats website.

I shared the Bangor Daily News article with some of my fellow LICL board members, and we thought that the Matinicus Library’s experience mirrored ours, almost 35 years ago, when we started up our island library. (See our blog post about our own humble beginnings)

The Matinicus Island Library was founded in 2016, beginning its life in an 8×10 foot shed. In 2020 they added an adjoining shed. They now have a children’s room. The library is run solely by volunteers, like the Long Island Community Library. As Eva Murray says, “Matinicus is neither stylish nor convenient as a tourist destination,” which makes it all the more appealing. Hopefully they will someday welcome this fellow islander (and librarian) to their beloved island library.

For information, see their Facebook page.

Authors on the Bay – Anne Weber returns

This month, in honor of Irish-American Heritage Month, we welcome Anne Weber of Great Diamond Island back to our blog post. Anne recently published her first novel, A Pencil in His Pocket, about her great grand uncle, John Mulvany, who immigrated from Ireland in 1851 and ultimately became a well known artist of the American west.

Anne kindly responded to my questions about her new book, as well as her personal connection.

How exactly are you related to John Mulvany? (which of his siblings do you descend from?)
John Mulvany is my great grand uncle. His half sister, Alice O’Brien, is my great grandmother

How did you balance the few known facts about John with the fictional aspect of telling a good story?
The facts became the foundation for the story, i.e. I knew John worked on the Erie Canal as a tow boy, but not how he ended up there, what boat he worked on, who he met, etc. So after researching the Canal for this time period, I used what I learned to write the story so John could learn what would make him the man he became – deeply connected to Irish freedom and an artist.
The same thing holds for how John came to America in 1851. Despite all my research, I could not find a record of his entering this country legally. So I created the Duffy family and Eamon O’Rielly.

Where did you find good historical resources of information about John Mulvany, as well as general history, such as about his home in Ireland, his family, his immigration to America, and his time on the canal?
In 1985, I began with a genealogy search which connected me with contemporary cousins in Ireland. In 1987, I was invited to visit Moynalty, Ireland where the Mulvany family still lives. The cousins have been invaluable to uncovering verifiable information. And then, of course, came the stories. I visited the Erie Canal Museum in Syracuse, NY for a first hand look; I spend hours reading. The internet might give me direction but the libraries were/are the best place to get the books to verify. Roy Finch’s The Story of the New York State Canals, Richard Garrity’s Canal Boatman, My Life on Upstate Waterways, and Lionel Wyld’s Boaters and Broomsticks were very helpful.

You are an artist – how does your work relate to the artwork of John Mulvany? (how is it similar, how is it different?) What do you admire most about his work, from an artists’ point of view?
My art work is a different style and genre. John Mulvany was a man of his time; portraits and history painting. He created three dimensional objects using light and dark. I use the temperature of color to create space; warm and cool colors. As I’ve learned what it takes to sustain a career in the arts, I really appreciate his persistence and dedication. He sketched a picture of a newsboy selling papers two weeks before his death. That picture is lost.

What do you think John would think of your book? If you could sit down in a conversation with him what are some of the big questions you would ask him?
I hope he would think the book was a good effort.
I would ask him where he stored his paintings at the end of his life; what arrangements he made for “Anarchists”, and his Civil War paintings.
What did happen the last night of his life?
What were his regrets?
Why did he switch subject matter – from Western to Irish. “Preliminary Trial of a Horse Thief” and “Custer’s Last Rally” had made his reputation and then he turned to Irish themes; i.e. “The Battle of Aughrim” which was found in a flea market, sold on eBay in 2010 for over $200,000.

A Pencil in his Pocket is Book One of a series about John Mulvany. For more information about Anne and how to purchase this book, see https://anneweber.me/. Anne will also be speaking about her book at the Maine Irish Heritage Center on April 24th, at 2:00 p.m.

Authors on the Bay: Kim MacIsaac

This month we bring you Kim MacIsaac’s new book: Peaks Island past and present. This beautiful book is the result of several decades of research about the history of her beloved island. Kim kindly answered some of my questions about her book:

It sounds like your family has been on the island for several generations – can you tell us briefly how they came to Peaks Island?

My maternal great-grandmother’s family came from Nova Scotia around 1880 – some to Portland and others to Natick, MA.  The Portland branch of the family acquired a cottage on Peaks.  Mom and Grammy grew up here summers.  My dad’s parents emigrated from Italy in 1911.  Some people from their village were already in Portland.  By 1916 they had bought several plots of land and a house on Peaks.  So my parents met on Peaks.  Dad was born on the island & mom became a year-round resident when they married.

How long did it take for this book to be published?  Tell us a little about the path to publication.

I have been researching Peaks Island’s history for decades – I’m still researching today.  There is always something new to discover.  The book is an expansion of my master’s thesis about tourism on Peaks.  Being locked down due to Covid gave me plenty of time to work on the book.  I started writing in earnest in fall of 2020 and completed the manuscript in late winter of 2021.  I only included a fraction of my research – it took a long time to decide what to include.  I signed on with Maine Authors Publishing in spring 2021.  Publication was scheduled for late summer/early fall 2021 but it was delayed several times because of the broken supply chain.  The publisher had trouble resupplying the paper & book cloth that I chose.  The books finally arrived a few days after Christmas.

How do you separate fact from fiction? (tall tales)

Peaks history is largely an oral history.  Not much documentation – the island is barely mentioned in any histories of Portland.  The stories that I heard from a variety of people, some of whom didn’t know one another, seemed to remain pretty much the same as they were passed down thru the generations.  Other stories seemed to be nothing but gossip – juicy things about this person or that person.  It seemed best not to put them in print.

How does your research of Peaks Island history translate to your golf cart tours on the island?

My daughter started the tour business in 2003 – the information given on tour is basic general information that can be corroborated.  New stuff gets incorporated & each tour guide brings in his/her experience of living on the island.  

Peaks Island seems to have changed in the past few years – how do you preserve the history currently there? How do you foresee the history of Peaks Island being told in the future?

The Peaks Island Historical Society (I am the curator) is documenting current happenings on the island via photos, newspaper items, & public programs/activities that are aimed at educating people about the importance & need to preserve not just the past but also today.  What happened yesterday, last week etc. is now history.  The Society was formed in 2019 with that goal in mind.  We have a big turn over in population so we’re hoping that the long-time residents & their families who have been here for generations will continue our efforts.

Kim’s book is available at the Long Island Community Library

A small library on an island on the coast of Maine