Looking for Annie

When I first heard about “The ride of her life: the true story of a woman, her horse, and their last-chance journey across America,” by Elizabeth Letts, I was intrigued. I finally read it, and fell in love with Annie and her story. I was so taken by it that when it came time for my birthday road trip, which was planned for visiting Paris and Norway (Maine), I asked my patient husband if we could do a side tour to through Minot and Mechanic Falls in search of Annie.

I didn’t do my homework very well. I did see on our atlas “Annie Road” but there was no sign for it. We did find the Maple Grove Cemetery, where she is buried, but I naively thought that it would be a small cemetery and we would just stumble upon (or over) her headstone, which has etched on it: “Last of the saddle tramps.” Alas, this is a very large cemetery! There is an index online but I wasn’t quite clear on how to use it to find Annie, who is buried in the Libby family plot. So, another quest for another day. Meanwhile, I did get to see Annie’s old stomping grounds.

I liked this book so much that I have bought several more copies to give as gifts to some of my horse loving kin. I was never a horse woman, but I do love a good tale. This book shines with good hearted people who helped Annie and her animals along the way, and I loved how her story unfolded. And how wonderful that she is from Maine! The Long Island Community Library has a copy of this book, which is dedicated to the memory of another Annie, Annie Donovan, who also loved this book.

Life on the Nubble: an island classic revisited

One of my definitions of a classic book is one that can be reread over time, and each time it brings new emotions and connections. Alix Kates Shulman’s “Drinking the rain: a memoir” is one of those classics, especially to those of us who live on Long Island, which Alix writes about in this memoir. Recently our island book group chose this book for our July reading, and to our delight, Alix agreed to join us via Zoom. We had a delightful discussion about how things have changed and remained the same on the island in the past 30 years since the book was published, including technology, solitude, foraging, island exploration, fear, climate, and nature. It’s also fun to guess who Alix encounters on the island, as the names were changed (to protect the innocent??)

How fortunate we are to have Alix, a celebrated and well known author, as one of our local authors, as well as a friend. While she no longer owns her beloved home on the Nubble, it will forever be frozen in time, thanks to this classic island book.

This book was for sale in a Rockland book shop last November – another evidence of a classic!

Tale of two sisters: Vanessa Bell and Virginia Woolf in Sussex

In the Sussex countryside of England are the homes of two famous sisters: Vanessa Bell and Virginia Woolf. They were the originators of The Bloomsbury Group, a circle of English artists, writers and intellectuals in the first half of the 20th century. The name came about as the group started in the Bloomsbury (London neighborhood) home of Virginia and Vanessa. Several years later both sisters moved to East Sussex, which is where I visited both their homes last October.

I was charmed by both houses, which are four miles apart (although much further to drive between). The sisters used to visit each other’s homes on foot. Artists Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant lived in Charleston, a farmhouse in a rural setting where one can smell the country air. Writers Virginia and Leonard Woolf lived in the village setting of Rodmell, in “Monk’s House.”

Charleston is a visual treat, with artwork covering every surface, from doors to tables to rugs, and all in between – even the side of the bathtub surround. Not to mention the actual framed artwork, plates, sculpture, and pottery. The walled garden is magical, with whimsical sculptures around each corner.

Monk’s House was a visceral experience, from the moment I stepped in – with the shades of green and artistic touches I felt like I was back in my grandmother’s house (Grandma Noble was also an artist, and lived in the same era). Stepping out of the house is a beautiful garden with views of Sussex Downs.

While I can’t claim to have immersed myself in the Bloomsbury canon, I was delighted to spend the day in the homes of these two luminary sisters.

Marvelous tales and adventures: the Children’s Special Collection at the Portland Public Library’s Portland Room

Many years ago, fresh out of graduate school for library science, I landed my first professional job as a grant cataloger of 19th century American children’s literature at the esteemed American Antiquarian Society in Worcester, Massachusetts.

Although I found the books that I catalogued to be fairly depressing (which echoed my life at the time) with their pious and moralistic themes, it didn’t dampen my enthusiasm for classic children’s literature and illustration, which I have always loved. One of my happiest memories as a child was reading “The Adventures of Uncle Lubin” (first published in 1902) with my grandmother, as well as reading books on my own such as A Little Princess (by Frances Hodgson Burnett), Hans Brinker, or, The Silver Skates (by Mary Mapes Dodge), and all the Wizard of Oz books (by L. Frank Baum). My imagination was also stirred through the illustrations of books, such as those by Beatrix Potter, Arthur Rackham, and Kate Greenaway. In fact, when in graduate school I was assigned to create an exhibit (on paper) on any subject of my choice, I chose to create an exhibit based on the clothing in Kate Greenaway’s books (with my premise that the clothing of the time was influenced by Kate Greenaway).

So, imagine my delight when I finally perused the marvelous books in the Portland Room’s Children’s Special Collection. (I’m somewhat ashamed to admit that it took me over 25 years to finally sit down and look at these amazing books). On my lunch hour one day this winter I wandered over to the Portland Room, where Special Collections Librarian Abraham Schechter allowed me to immerse myself into the magical books behind the glass sliding doors. I spent a very happy hour oohing and aahing over the book bindings and illustrations throughout many of these books, including endpapers.

My first question, though, was “Where did these books come from?” Abraham said that they were in the previous home of the Portland Public Library in the Baxter Building. Investigating the bookplates and inscriptions explained some of the provenance beyond that.

The most well-known children’s book authors, from both sides of the Atlantic, can be found in this collection, including Louisa May Alcott (Little Women), J. M. Barrie (Peter Pan), L. Frank Baum (Wizard of Oz), Frances Hodgson Burnett (Secret Garden), Lewis Carroll (Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland), Kenneth Grahame (Wind in the Willows), Rudyard Kipling (Jungle Book), and Robert Louis Stevenson (Kidnapped). Lesser known to today’s modern audiences, but very popular in their time, are G. A. Henty (known for adventure fiction and historical fiction), Harriett Lothrop (Five Little Peppers series), and Oliver Optic (pseudonym for William Taylor Adams). Closer to home are Maine authors Jacob Abbott (best known for the Rollo books), Sophie May (pseudonym for Rebecca Sophia Clarke, and best known for the Little Prudy series), Kate Douglas Wiggin (Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm), and Josephine Perry, the wife of Admiral Robert Peary, who wrote “Snow baby” with her daughter Marie Ahnighito Peary.

And, oh, the illustrations! I found books illustrated by Howard Pyle, N. C. Wyeth, W. Heath Robinson, Randolph Caldecott, Arthur Rackham, Beatrix Potter, and Kate Greenaway. Even William Blake, the English poet and painter, is represented.

There are also wonderful fairy tales, such as those by Andrew Lang, Hans Christian Anderson, the Brothers Grimm, and Charles Perrault. There are books in several languages, including French, German, Spanish, and Italian.

Alas, I could only begin to skim the surface in surveying these 600+ books. I hope I can return soon, to really delight in these beautiful books in a more leisurely way. (Here are more of my photographs of this marvelous collection)

Eggceptional! Eggs from the “nests” (homes) of Long Islanders

Our newest exhibit showcases favorite eggs of islanders, including Nancy Berges, Ann Caliandro, Judy Churchard, Annie Donovan, Bette Jane Fitzgerald, Nancy Jordan, Nancy Noble, Katharine Stewart, and Patty Temple. We are also delighted to showcase the Pysanky eggs made during the recent workshop.

The egg, an ancient symbol of new life, has been associated with many cultures celebrating spring. Pagans saw eggs as a symbol of regeneration in springtime. Early Christians borrowed this idea and applied it to the rebirth of Christ. The egg itself became a symbol of the Resurrection.

Open during library hours

Long Island Community Library

Ode to Beatrix Potter

On my bucket list is a visit Beatrix Potter‘s home in the Lake District in England. I have long been a fan of her books and artwork, as well as of her life story, as an author, illustrator, natural scientist, and conservationist. Although I have not yet made it to Hill Top, her home in Near Sawrey, and other places that are associated with her, I did have the pleasure of visiting an exhibition about her artwork and love of nature at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. This exhibition, Beatrix Potter: Drawn to Nature, was one of the reasons for visiting England last October. In the midst of a wonderful week visiting my friends, Jane and Michael in West Sussex, we took the train to London, and found our way to the Victoria and Albert Museum via an underground tunnel. Entering the exhibition was entering Beatrix’s world. We saw familiar friends such as Benjamin Bunny, Jemima Puddleduck, Peter Rabbit, and even the waistcoats that Beatrix used for inspiration in her book, The Tailor of Gloucester. At the end of the exhibit one could sit and enjoy scenes from the Lake District, to make you almost feel like you were there. So, until I can visit the actual setting, this was a wonderful way to get a small taste of Beatrix Potter’s landscape, via her artwork.

Entrance to exhibit
Benjamin Bunny
Beatrix Potter artwork – a black bunny and Mrs. Tiggle-Winkle
Jemima Puddleduck and Peter Rabbit
Waistcoats which inspired the Tailor of Gloucester’s waistcoat
These cute little mice appeared throughout the exhibit
A young fan

LICL Book Group

Exciting news! After several years of not having a book group at the Long Island Community Library, a new group is up and running! Started by “the two Lindas,” Linda Greene and Linda McCann, we meet the 2nd Monday of each month at 1 p.m. Our initial meeting last November brought together a group of enthusiastic islanders, full of ideas and suggestions about books to read and how to proceed. We started with The wind in my hair : my fight for freedom in modern Iran, by Masih Alinejad with Kambiz Foroohar (her husband). Following that we read Dinners with Ruth: A Memoir on the Power of Friendships, by Nina Totenburg of NPR, about her friendships, including with Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg. Following two books by journalists, we are turning to fiction, with Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Our next choice for March is by a Maine author: The Midcoast, by Adam White.

This is a great way to get to know your fellow islanders on a deeper level, sharing our love for good books. All are welcome!

Notable books read in 2022

According to Goodreads, last year I read 49 books! The shortest book at 112 pages was Discover Galway, by Paul Walsh, which I read when I thought we may be going to Galway, Ireland (didn’t happen last year, but would still love to go).  The longest book was by the same author as the longest book I read the previous year: Dragonfly in Amber, by Diana Gabaldon – her second book in her Scottish Highlander series, “Outlander,” at even longer than her first one, at 947 pages (way too long, so we’ll see if I’m inspired to read her third book this year).  The most popular book was “The silent patient” by Alex Michaelides, which was read by at least 2,604,312 people on Goodreads. The least popular (read) book was Discovery Galway again (sorry Paul Walsh), which was on only 5 shelves of Goodreads readers.

Amongst those 50 or so books that I read in 2022, here are some that I would recommend reading:

Sailing true north: ten admirals and the voyage of character, by Admiral James Stavridis. Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan (which I attended for one year) sponsors a lecture series, called “The January Series.” I was able to catch some of the lectures online, including one by Admiral James Stavridis. I was so enchanted by his charisma that I sought out (i.e., purchased) several of his books for Michael. We enjoyed his writing and learned a lot about various admirals throughout history. Now we are reading his “Sailor’s bookshelf: fifty books to know the sea.” Some of the books we’ve read before, but he’s introducing us to more that are now on our “to read” list of “boat books.”

The Violin conspiracy: a novel, by Brendan Slocumb. Two years ago, in the midst of the pandemic, I picked up the violin (a lifelong dream), and have really enjoyed playing it (albeit still pretty badly). So, when I saw this title, I knew I had to read it. After the initial chapters, I checked the author bio, as it seemed like whoever wrote this had to be a musician. That was my favorite part of the book, the descriptions of Ray playing the violin. You could feel his passion. I also liked Ray’s story, of falling in love with the violin, and his challenges along the way (especially standing up to racism). This first novel is based somewhat on the experiences of the author (without the “conspiracy,” which while interesting, was not as compelling as the other parts).

My Story, by Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum. “My sister went to Abu Dhabi, and all she bought me was…” this amazing book by the Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates. Michael and I read a chapter each evening and agreed that this should be required reading for world leaders, or anyone interested in the politics of the Middle East. How refreshing to read about someplace in the Middle East that is not fraught with war and corruption. The chapters are deliciously short, well written, and interesting. The author spends a bit of time talking about his mother and his horses, but his wife gets only one brief mention (later I found out why – he’s not so great on the women in his life, aside from his mother). Overall, we were very impressed with this man, and his poetic soul and leadership.

Wintering: The power of rest and retreat in difficult times, by Katherine May. Okay, I admit it, I was a sucker for the beautiful cover, as well as the great title. While not all of this book grabbed me, there was so much that I felt like I would carry forward. I do at times feel like I am wintering – not only on the calendar, but with other factors in my life, including the pandemic. And I do admit to loving winter, although it can be challenging. I liked the approach of writing the book in monthly segments, and I also liked that the author is British and her home is in a seaside village. Katherine May intertwines her personal stories with experiences of other places and people and creatures. Her admission that this book turned out differently than she intended is quite true to life – despite our best intentions, life happens.

The bookshop of second chances: a novel, by Jackie Fraser. This is my kind of book – great setting, lovely characters, good story (even though predictable ending, which is just fine with me). I loved Thea and her wonderful honesty and introspection, as well as Edward and his curmudgeness (not a word, I know). And who can resist, in general, books where people escape their lives and start over in a small idyllic village somewhere – in this case in Scotland. And working in a bookstore! What could be better, indeed.

Wanderlost: Falling from grace and finding mercy in all the wrong places, by Natalie Toon Patton. I went on a spending spree at my favorite publisher, Paraclete Books, and this is one of the titles that intrigued me – I thought my friend Elizabeth may like it, as she is a spiritual soul who loves to travel. Of course, I had to read it first – and loved it! What an inspiring story, and so beautifully written (and very funny!). There is much here to chew on, and reread. Like the author, I’m also intrigued by the intersection of travel and spirituality. I loved how Natalie’s  perceptions changed with her exposure to different cultures and faiths and people. I think that happens to some of us, whose faith evolves throughout life, and what we are drawn to (such as Celtic Christianity for me). Church and religion can disappoint us (reading “Jesus and John Wayne” the previous year was a real eye opener), and we peel away the layers we try to find what remains true.

Finding Dora Maar: An artist, an address book, a life, by Brigitte Benkemoun. I read about this book, in which the author finds an address book that she eventually realizes belonged to artist Dora Marr (1907-1997), in one of the magazines lying around our staff kitchen. It looked so interesting that I suggested it for my book group. I am so glad I read it – it’s right up my alley in so many ways. As an archivist I am always trying to puzzle items out – so I loved that aspect of the book. I also find that whole era of these 20th century French artists and writers fascinating. I had heard of some of the people in the book, but it was fun to learn about them all on a deeper level, and Dora’s relationship with them.

The Lost Apothecary: a novel, by Sarah Penner. This impressive and well written first novel, about a female apothecary in London who secretly dispenses poisons to liberate women from the men who have wronged them, is a fun and fast read, with three different voices telling the story, in two different time periods. Yes, this seems to be a common way to tell historical fiction these days, which sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t. For the most part this does work, and I found myself interested in the two stories, and caring about the women. The contemporary story of a marriage is also compelling, about how one can lose themselves in expectations and doing the “right” thing.

The Cottage Fairy Companion: A Cottagecore guide to slow living, connecting to nature, and becoming enchanted again, by Paola Merrill. A friend introduced me to the Cottage Fairy videos on YouTube, and I found myself falling into Paola’s beautiful world in a rural valley in Washington State. When I was on vacation in Rockland, Maine, I found a copy in a local bookstore, and purchased it. It’s the kind of book where you can read a few pages at a time, and just savor the good writing and beautiful photographs. Paola Merrill is an old soul, and is so thoughtful and sensitive about how she approaches life. I love how she grows as a person throughout her videos, and in her book. She also has a puckish sense of humor, and is a unique and honest individual. Having watched her videos for the past year or so I can hear her voice when I read her book. I like how the book is laid out in seasons, too, with various recipes to try.

This Year It Will Be Different, and other stories: a Christmas treasury, by Maeve Binchy. By the time Christmas rolls around I’m in the mood for light reading, especially Christmas stories. This book came into my hands at the perfect time, as I had been reading a lot of more serious books. The short stories were so readable, and while I liked some of them better than others, overall they were very enjoyable. They had a bit of depth to them, and not always the happy endings that one would imagine.

Dylan Thomas and Wales

This month, in the midst of celebrating a Celtic Christmas, Evergreen United Methodist Church, on our fair island, was honored to host Abraham Schechter, the Special Collections Librarian at the Portland Public Library, and his wife Angelika, who shared with us about Christmas in Wales, as seen through the eyes of Dylan Thomas, the famed Welsh poet. After reading to us, “A Child’s Christmas in Wales,” Abraham showed us photographs of Swansea and Thomas’ home, where Abraham was fortunate enough to be the writer-in-residence at Dylan Thomas’ home. (At another point, Abraham spent some time at The Kilns, the home of C.S. Lewis in England, so he is indeed a man blessed to live amongst the homes of these two amazing literary men). One can also visit Dylan Thomas’s boathouse, including enjoying tea on the Taf Estuary.

For more about Abraham’s time at Dylan Thomas’ home, you can read his blogspot, La Vie Graphite: writing in wales – Blogger

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.

A small library on an island on the coast of Maine