Tuesday, July 31, 2018


Winnie-the-Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner are sacred texts to me. If I had the coin, I’d have first British editions sitting on a bookshelf. Instead I have both books in The World of Pooh, which is the two books together, first released this way in 1957. I grew up with a copy of it, and after I got married and moved to DC, I bought my own copy. Tim and I read it to each other. (Yes, sometimes we’re that couple.) I practically know it chapter and verse. Do not quote Disney Pooh to me. Your Disney Pooh quotes are not Winnie-the-Pooh.

I’m not asking anybody. I’m just telling everybody.

[I do have a fondness for some of those cartoons going ’round in which Pooh mentions that Trump is still president and Piglet says “Fuck.” But I really like the word fuck, and I happen to agree with the sentiment, and I see this more as parody, not as something trying to pass itself off as Winnie-the-Pooh.]

Admittedly, I did see the film Goodbye Christopher Robin. I liked it. Admittedly, I will likely see Disney’s Christopher Robin. Because Ewan McGregor, and the animation looks well done. But the trailer certainly hasn’t picked up any language from the original books, and the writing seems stilted. We’ll see.



I finally bought the seventh edition of National Geographic’s Field Guide to the Birds of North America. I’d given it as a gift, and I thought I’d like the new tabs and the expanded information, and I do, but it’s changed the order of birds to reflect taxonomic changes (which is good and proper, I guess, but a little disorienting), and it’s thicker than I’d like, making it harder to carry in the field (at least for me). So I find myself grabbing my skinnier, worn, outdated third edition when I head out the door. And in case you’re wondering why I use National Geographic, it’s because the maps appear on the same page as the bird species, and Peterson’s didn’t have that (when I was first birding, anyway), causing one to have to cross-reference everything. Then Sibley’s came out, which is great, but again, too big (I have to check out the split editions). It’s good to have a lot of guides around. But I’m a lazy birder when it comes to what I will carry.


When The Annotated Phantom Tollbooth came out in 2011, I bought a copy, because I loved that book so much as a child, and it’s beautiful, and I’m happy I have it, but I’m glad I still have The Phantom Tollbooth in cheap paperback—just the story, no annotation—because sometimes you just need to be alone in Dictionopolis or Digitopolis, free from other opinions or information, and someday maybe I’ll find the hardback copy from my childhood in That House, and maybe I’ll keep it.


When I was 25 and temping as a secretary in DC and worried that I had no brain at all, I decided to test graduate school waters and signed up for two courses at a nearishby university: a poetry workshop, which was kind of insane of me, and a feminist literary criticism course, which was scary, because I hadn’t been an English major—partly because I didn’t figure out in time that I probably should have been and partly because I have trouble remembering detail and plot points and thought I would fail exams—so I was intimidated to enter a graduate school classroom because what if it turned out I was brainless, but in the evenings, before the calendar caught up with the syllabus, Tim read Frankenstein aloud to me, so that when I read it, it was like a second read (I can’t recommend this enough, actually, and what a fucking amazing book—I still have that cheap Penguin Classics paperback from the class, all yellowed), and, as stated in Letter 1 to Mrs Saville, England, “You will rejoice to hear that no disaster has accompanied the commencement of an enterprize which you have regarded with such evil forebodings,” for even though I was not brilliant, neither were some of the enrolled students, so I held my middlin’ own, and there was this woman in both my classes with big red glasses and an outsized gift* on whom I developed a fan-girl crush and we’re still friends, which is worth the price of tuition.

*I don’t mean to imply that she was all talent. She worked hard. But damn, she’s good.


From the last 365:

177/365 A Third George
A Russian kept alive by the Germans to translate between guards and prisoners, he came to the states a refugee and started over at a Pennsylvania college. Having lost his academic credentials, he began as janitor and student, but soon became a beloved professor.

I have a book called This I Remember: from War to Peace, by George. It was published by a small religious press about ten years after I had spent hours with him, typing (on a real typewriter) as he recalled memory after memory, starting each one with “I remember . . .” The book is sectioned chronologically: his Russian childhood, his career, his army and imprisonment, his years as a displaced person after World War II, his landing at the college and his eventual rise to professor. It is a simple book, in a way, short, fascinating, and I need to reread it. I remember those many hours sitting with him, typing his stories, the clack of the keys.

George shared the first joke he ever understood in English. I’ve never forgotten it: Two ladies were talking. One asked the other, “Do you like Kipling?” The other replied, “Honestly, dear, I don’t know how to kipple.”

Monday, July 30, 2018


I just returned a Netflix DVD that I’ve had for 2.5 months: Ex Libris: The New York Public Library. The trailer looked fascinating to me. I love the main building, and I’ve been to a couple of the other branches. I figured I could watch this documentary while I worked out on my elliptical.

But then it arrived, and I discovered two things: first, that it’s 3.5 hours long; second, that there is no closed captioning. Without it, I can’t really watch it while I’m on the elliptical, because I often can’t hear what’s being said.

So I would watch a little here and a little there. And I found it both incredibly fascinating and profoundly boring. Which I think is the point.

There were scenes from big events featuring big-name celebrity and academic speakers. There were local meetings, there were staff meetings, and there were meetings of people in power. Sometimes it really felt like I was attending these meetings, going over the necessary and mundane. And that’s important, but oy. Meetings.

A lot of it was about modernizing and what it means to be a library today.

And some of the parts that I loved were purely physical: shots of the main building itself, items in their collection, the way that books are sorted and the people who and machines that do that. It’s incredible.

And now USPS and Netflix will sort that disk quickly and send me something else. I’m hoping for Isle of Dogs.


The first book I ever read aloud all by myself when I learned to read was Margaret Hillert’s The Yellow Boat (1966). It’s taken me several tries to find this on the Internet, because all I could remember about the book was an impression of its cover: a blocky illustration of a yellow sailboat, but I wasn’t sure of the title (using sail in searches was not helpful). I’ve finally found the original cover online (as well as an updated one), and yes, that’s the book (in the Follett Just Beginning-to-Read Books series). I remember sitting in my dad’s lap and reading it out loud start to finish. I imagine that it may still be somewhere in That House—but this memory is from the House Before That.


Here’s another tidbit I wrote in the journal several years back to help introduce an article about Van Dyke:

One of the few old fishing books I have in my personal library is a copy of Henry Van Dyke’s Fisherman’s Luck—a 1911edition of the 1899 book. It is a copy that my grandmother gave to my grandfather on his birthday in 1920—it’s inscribed from her to him. I never had opportunity to meet Helen and David, so you can imagine how special a Christmas gift this was for me to receive from my non–fly-fishing father several years ago.

And, as many of you likely know, it’s a good book.


I hadn’t committed to reading a series of novels for years, until last year, when I read all the Elena Ferrante Neapolitan novels. We’d read My Brilliant Friend in book group in March 2016. I thought my sister would like these books, and I wanted to read them, and I wanted to NOT bring more books into my house, so I bought the other three (The Story of a New Name, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, The Story of the Lost Child) and gave all four to her for Christmas that year, with the understanding that she would loan them back to me as she finished each one. Which she did. Although I think it’s possible I got AHEAD of her. I’m not sure. Anyway, I got to read them, and it was just so blissful to be lost in another world for awhile. I want that to happen again someday.


The other book I ordered was Lali’s daughter’s new one. I’d been feeling guilty for not ordering it before, and Dona’s action made me feel even guiltier. I hope I get to read it soon enough.


I did recently order two books, despite the fact that I can’t bring more books into the house.

One, ironically (or not), is a book about hoarding, and so far it may be the most helpful book on the subject that I’ve read. It’s called Digging Out: Helping Your Loved One Manage Clutter, Hoarding & Compulsive Acquiring, and so far it seems to acknowledge that you aren’t going to be able to change the hoarder, so are there other ways to move forward with your relationship, etc. It’s been fascinating to read something that is so familiar. It’s always hard for me to believe that there are other people out there dealing with this. I’ve met a few, but not many. But given the DSM-V, and given the books I read, clearly my mother is a classic case, and there are enough cases in the world that one can classify.


This past weekend (by which I mean the last weekend in July, not July 20, to which this post equates) was the annual book sale run by our small local library. It’s their major fundraiser. On good years, I have my shit together and go through my books and donate to it. It hasn’t been a good year in awhile.

I cannot go to this sale. I feel totally guilty about it, because going is a great way to support the library. But I always come home with books that just sit there. I have books that I got there years ago, unread, that now I have to get rid of somehow.

I am dying to go through the nonfiction closet. I am dying to clean out my office. I need so badly to deaccession so much.

I want to someday feel like I can go to the book sale again.


Because of my job as an editor in a particular field, I’ve occasionally been asked to blurb books, and I’ve occasionally done it, and when I see the blurb, it’s often strange, and I usually think I did a terrible job, and the last one I did, I . . . oh, wait. Better save that for next month.


One thing I didn’t understand when I moved into a Victorian house is that there is no wall space. It is all windows and doors. This has been problematic in terms of where to place furniture, how to get art up on walls, how to put something there without blocking the heat source.

There is no room for bookcases.

We have two. One is in the corner of Tim’s studio. One is in my second office room.

But all the books had to go in our closets. I have a large storage closet (that I may lose someday), and all my nonfiction is on three shelves on its back wall.

The fiction is in the guest room closet on two shelves that we built above the hanger rod. A step stool is needed to get to those books.

Most of my books are unimpressive paperbacks, so not displaying them is no big deal.

I have books on a mantel in my bedroom (above a boarded-over fireplace). I have a stack of unread books by the bed. We have nightstands with shelves, and there are some books in there.

There may be some books boxed in the attic, but not many.

I’ve always been a book snoop (like most of you) when I go into someone else’s home. But in this home, no one can see my books. No doubt, there are people who don’t trust me because of this lack of display. It makes me look like nonreader. Which, until this year, I wasn’t.


I have not been to one book group gathering this year. I’ve had schedule conflicts. I haven’t read anything (not a prerequisite for attending). The few times I have been available, I have just wanted to spend time at home, not out.

You’ve heard my complaints over the years: that it’s hard to get people to talk about the book. That the group is too big. That the group is too big for me to continue considering making dinner for said group, so I have bowed out of hosting. That I can’t even read what I want to read, and I can’t read anything anymore, so I’m not going to read what they want to read. That every time we talk about changing it up a bit, there is resistance. And I understand the resistance. Having someone make you a fabulous dinner once and month and spending time with good people is fantastic.

But, what’s this? Here is the e-mail announcing August:

Judy and I will host a potluck picnic, weather permitting out on the deck (or inside if needed). Not only will the food be contributed by each and everyone, also the books.
—Read a book of your choice and bring a synopsis of it to present to the group, giving us all new authors and subjects.
—Presentations will be 5 to 7 minutes to allow everyone a chance to speak.

I will follow up with directions when we call for numbers. Thank you book group for continuing to value open, creative thinking and community effort.

Dona and Judy*

I don’t know if I will go. I don’t like presentations, and I’ve not been reading. I just started reading a book that I’d be afraid to talk about at book group because of one particular person in the group. But it’s interesting that something different is happening. (I know Dona has had same issues as I with size of group, and the last time I “helped” host, it was with her, when we did Sonya’s book.)

*Names included to show Dona another Dona. And I think the gathering is on our Dona’s birthday.


Kim’s post about her childhood library reminded me of my own first love (the Davis Library, which became the CCPL mentioned in post 196). The library long ago expanded and built a new facility, but when I was a kid, it was the marble-facade building on Main Street, with two marble steps leading up to its one-more-at-the-door. The door led to a split staircase. The children’s department was downstairs, and everything else was upstairs. It didn’t take long for me to become an adolescent checking out every upstairs novel she could. I remember feeling, during high school summers, that I’d read every book in there (which of course was not true). I remember the stacks, the desk at the center. There was a particular smell to it. It was not a big place. There was something perfect about it.


And speaking of the journal I edit, I just got an incredible note from my copy editor, with whom I’ve worked for 23 years. (She lives in Idaho now.) It is a belated note of sympathy on the occasion of my father’s passing. “I have asked that a mass be said in his memory (July 31),” she writes, “and have made a donation to the C.C. Public Library so that a book can be placed in the collection in his memory.”

Not only is this incredibly touching, but placing a book in someone’s memory is a beautiful way to honor someone, especially a reader, and a practice that I’d frankly forgotten about but hope to take up myself.

And, not being Catholic, I’m pretty impressed and honored by the mass thing too.


Abbreviated and edited from the journal I edit:
Last May [several years ago now], I received an e-mail from R.H., a medieval scholar. He had been asked to assess a text in a mid-fifteenth-century codex—a text that turned out to include the earliest recorded collection of fly-tying patterns known to exist. The Haslinger Breviary, currently owned by [—], is a devotional book; the fishing text is added to pages originally left blank.

H. was writing a piece about the breviary that included not only a description and history of the book, but also a transcription and translation of the fishing texts and fly patterns. Would we be interested in publishing this?

Our reply lies in your hands.

[It]  is presented here in three parts. In the first, H. and codicologist P.K. describe the codex and review its provenance, beginning with Leonhard Haslinger in the fifteenth century. Part II presents a transcription of the text alongside H.’s English translation. In Part III, H. places the breviary’s fishing notes in historical context.

In October, with this issue already in production, I made a long overdue trip to London. Before leaving, I contacted J.R. of [—] to see if I could make an appointment to see the breviary. He graciously agreed, and my husband and I got to see the book, complete with a personal tour of its pages and history.* It was a highlight of our stay.
*We paged through the book carefully without gloves, being told that gloves would make our fingertips less sensitive and we’d be more likely to tear pages if wearing them. This must be the oldest book I’ve ever touched.


A 365 rerun, to help catch up.
“There’s a check waiting for you in your office,” Dagmar told me. That summer my head was full of Kundera, and the Brethren Service Center (my employer) was housing several Eastern European refugees. Can you see how I might have asked her, “Which one?”


You guys! I finished The Life of the Skies. On Friday night, maybe, which was day 208 (so look how far behind I still am), AND this means after I wrote about it and said I had fewer than 100 pages to go, it still took me 24 days to finish. But I finished it. I liked it. And I never have to pack it for a trip again.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018


Today is the 205th day of this 365 (July 24), and I am writing post 192 (July 11). This year is overwhelming. I cannot read. I cannot write. I cannot speak.

I am in Portland, at last, again. Tim has been here a lot, and I have been in Maryland a lot, and we pass like ships in the night.

On Sunday, while packing, I decided to bring Deloney’s book along, Songbook for Haunted Boys and Girls. Most of you know Deloney from the last 365 project. And you know that Mlle Vague died last autumn and that Deloney spiraled into depression and possibly attempted suicide and possibly is in a safe space now.

Once, when Deloney bemoaned that he had deleted his posts, I shipped them to him, because I knew he would delete them, so I had printed them out. Some of those made it into the book, I think.

And I was somewhat instrumental in getting the conversation started between him Sewa Yoleme, who published the book. So it is not my book, but I am happy to have helped.

On Sunday, I had trouble finding my copy, which flipped me out and felt metaphorical. Turned out it was on the shelf I thought it was on, just buried. Earlier in the day I had obsessively searched for a tape measurer that I was sure I had put in the toolbox. Turned out it was there, but had found its way into the inside of a roll of duct tape, where it had hidden out.

I found the book. I packed it. I got to Portland yesterday afternoon and saw the news. Shooting in Toronto, in Greektown. The Danforth. Sunday night (July 22). Deloney is no longer there, but where is he? And how could this happen in his neighborhood?

When it was published, I purchased many copies of Songbook and gave it to friends. Here is “Fanny Moons the Athenians”:

Fanny moons the Athenians across the street, then curls in my lap. It’s a long night but a happy one with winter coming. Fanny sleeps on the rads, firm and toasty, half-remembering snow. We’re so much alike, this temperamental cat and I, but she’s going to be young and beautiful forever as I slowly and inevitably begin to resemble Mr. Potatohead. I used to hold her in the palm of my hand and set her down in the big empty ashtray. The old Greeks, pissed as pilgrims, hang out at the Athens Restaurant and Bar. They see Fanny’s silhouette nightly in the window. They used to talk about her, now they sing about her as I do.

Thursday, July 12, 2018


Four years ago, in a discussion with a friend, I learned of the existence of the Amish romance novel. According to Wikipedia, works in this literary subgenre are referred to as “bonnet rippers.” I’ve never read a bonnet ripper, but I did subsequently rent a movie based on one, The Shunning. I don’t remember it vividly—I never remember plot points vividly—but it kept my interest long enough to see how it turned out. Plus, Amish.

Monday, July 9, 2018


My book group should kick me out.

Back when I was a full participant in my book group, back when I went all the time and read every book, back when it bugged me when people didn’t talk enough about the book, back when I finally accepted that it was really a supper club, back before I told everyone that I would no longer be hosting book group because I wasn’t going to make dinner for 18 or 20 people anymore because I really just can’t face that (and really, that’s why they should kick me out, for not hosting, but so far they haven’t, possibly because I haven’t shown up even once this year so they haven’t had opportunity), I did, over the course of its first fourteen years, host (or co-host) eight times, and these are the books that I made the group read:

—Ernst Jünger/The Glass Bees
—Virginia Woolf/Mrs. Dalloway
—Barbara Ehrenreich/Nickel and Dimed: On Not Getting by in America
—Dorothy Baker/Cassandra at the Wedding
—A. J. Jacobs/The Know-It-All: One Man’s Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World
—Marjane Satrapi/The Complete Persepolis
—Kathryn Stockett/The Help
—Sonya Cobb/The Objects of Her Affection*

*Written by Lali’s daughter, for those of you who know Lali.


I can hardly keep up with reading this group’s blog posts, let alone write any. But the result of reading your posts is making me incredibly nostalgic for pre-job growing-up summers when pretty much all I did was hole up in my room and read book after book after book. I miss that life. I don’t see a way back to it.


I’m behind, as always, so a rerun:

I’m a reader—although I don’t read as much I’d like to—and of course I can make all the arguments of why the book will be better than the movie, of how much more detail and texture and exposition the reader gets, how possibly more actively involved reader is than watcher. Still, having loved a book, I can love its movie, in part because I love movies and in part because I have accepted that it’s not fair to compare two entirely different media (apples and oranges).

I remember the first time I felt betrayed by a movie. (Many of my friends have heard me rant about this one.) One of my favorite books, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, had been made into a movie, for some reason called Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. I was excited to see it. I went to see it. Had the abbreviation WTF been in my vocabulary at the time, it would have been useful to describe my reaction: WTF have they done to my book?

Since then, of course, I’ve grown up and realized that books are books and movies are movies. I’ve even revisited Willy Wonka and cut everyone some slack. Still, when Johnny Depp starred in an extremely faithful-to-the-book version, I couldn’t help but feel a bit redeemed. (And yet they did add a completely unnecessary backstory for Wonka—seems everyone has to tinker.)

Friday, July 6, 2018


In April, I think, when Alison I were “rescuing” a few things from the house like family photos, some of which were then shared at my father’s memorial service, I stole a boxed set of two beautiful hardback books: Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre and Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights. What makes this 1943 set so special is that both books are illustrated with wood engravings by Fritz Eichenberg. They are stunning. I vividly remember reading this edition of Wuthering Heights, loving the artsy two-column format of the pages. I am 99.99% sure that my mother will not notice their absence, given the thousands of volumes in the house. Sometimes one chooses to not ask for a no.

(Check out this slideshow someone posted.) 


Ever since I read Tourist Season (still my favorite, a book in which Floridian terrorists are killing off tourists for all the right good-cause reasons), Carl Hiaasen has been my guilty-pleasure author (although I’ve yet to read his 2016 Razor Girl). Last week, while I was in Maryland, there was a mass shooting in nearby Annapolis at the offices of the Capital newspaper. Hiaasen’s brother, managing editor and columnist Rob Hiaasen, was among the five dead. All of these shootings are desperately heartbreaking and rage producing. I’ve never read anything Rob wrote. But I’ve spent a lot of hours reading his brother. And there’s something about that, as I’m sure you’ll all agree, that makes it feel closer.


You’d think with fewer than 100 pages to go, I would have picked up Life of the Skies last night. But no. Instead I dug out Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic, one of my favorite books. When I heard that someone was making a musical of it, I was skeptical; but then I heard some Fresh Air interviews that interested me. So I went to see it on Broadway and completely blown away by it. Tomorrow I’m dragging Tim to a regional theatre production, hoping it’s good. Last night I wanted to look at the book.

Bechdel is coming to town July 14, the very day I leave for a couple of days away with Tim. It’s killing me. I want to get my books signed. Maybe I’ll find someone.

And if you don’t know about the Bechdel test, you should.

Thursday, July 5, 2018


I feel sorry for The Life of the Skies: Birding at the End of Nature. Not because it’s a bad book. On the contrary, it’s quite good. But it’s the book I was just starting when the shit hit the fan at the beginning of the year. Luck of the draw, I guess.

After our birding trip in September, when a fellow birder highly recommended the book to Tim, I got it for him for his birthday or Christmas or some December holiday. He read it quickly, then passed it to me.

I believe I have taken the book with me to Maryland six times. Most of the time, I read nothing on these trips. I barely read at home since all this happened. I have opted for alcohol and television.

Last night I made it to page 237 (after having to reread most of a chapter). I’m fewer than 100 pages out!

I did sneak an “easy,” poetic book in a couple of months ago. Luckily, chapters in Life of the Skies book can stand on their own.

Maybe soon I’ll be a reader again.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018


“How many books do you think are in this house?” Alison asks me.

“Between 5,000 and 10,000?” I hazard, an extreme range, I realize.

“I was going to guess 7,000,” she says.

I think of glass jars of jellybeans or gumballs, guessing contests, wondering if there is a practical way to get at that number.

Sunday, July 1, 2018


My freelance life used to require the APA’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders as nearby reference. The newest incarnation, DSM-5, separated hoarding disorder from OCD into a distinct entity with the following diagnostic criteria: 
  1. Persistent difficulty discarding or parting with possessions, regardless of their actual value.
  2. This difficulty is due to a perceived need to save the items and to distress associated with discarding them.
  3. The difficulty discarding possessions results in the accumulation of possessions that congest and clutter active living areas and substantially compromises their intended use. If living areas are uncluttered, it is only because of the interventions of third parties (eg, family members, cleaners, or the authorities).
  4. The hoarding causes clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning (including maintaining an environment safe for oneself or others).
  5. The hoarding is not attributable to another medical condition.
  6. The hoarding is not better explained by the symptoms of another mental disorder (eg, obsessions in obsessive-compulsive disorder, decreased energy in major depressive disorder, etc).
  7. Specifiers
    1. With excessive acquisition
    2. With good or fair insight
    3. With poor insight
    4. With absent insight/delusional beliefs