Fair and Foul and Fair

Monday Morning Musings:

“So fair and foul a day I have not seen.”

–William Shakespeare, Macbeth, Act I, Scene 3

“To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.”

–William Shakespeare, Macbeth, Act V, Scene 5

“A library is infinity under a roof.”

—Gail Carson Levine

 

I lust for language–

a thousand symphonies play in my head

like light on water, ripples tripling

the glowing

flowing,

sending words, like spindrift into the sky

never lies,

but truth amplified.

I see the storms of summer spring

and hear the mockingbird sing

in night and day

he stays–

wanting love and standing guard

his tiny body working hard.

I feel

(ever present)

the ghosts around me sighing

and do they fear

from year to year

what was and what will be?

The circling of time

and life beating

(so fleeting),

but renewed again and again.

 

We walk through galleries

and by the river

(life giver)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

flowing through a city that has grown

built with wood, and bricks, and stone,

a nation conceived, and ideas flown

(now people find them on their phones).

But still—here they are gathered

scattered on grass

biking, running,

or rowing, sun-glimmered,

forward and back

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

like time

(the Muse says)–

they’re in their prime

now

in this clime

the moment frozen in a thought

or captured in a rhyme

but before long

they will be gone.

 

Museums and libraries

I celebrate–

spread my books out on a table

enabling those who pass to see them better

West Deptford Public Library Book Festival

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

to read the letters and titles

though mine don’t sell

people stop by to wish me well

and support the work I do—

telling the truth

when some others seldom do.

 

We go out later to drink some wine

and dine in the open air

Sharrott Winery, Hammonton, NJ

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

the day turns fair, then foul, then fair

where birds flutter and fly

and children cry

with delight

running in fields in the fading light.

 

We see the Scottish play

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

on a cooler day–

then again it moves from foul to fair

threatening skies to a more spring-like air.

But inside this grand library

Free Library of Philadelphia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

something wicked this way comes

though there are only two witches instead of three

(something in this version that bothered me).

Yet the acting is good, and the Macbeths

both powerful and vulnerable

to fate

that they help to make.

As the drum beats. and the swords fly

time in the theater passes by,

and tales from another age verify

the universals truths of humankind

(though this production streamlined),

all the tomorrows,

and the yesterdays,

the sound and the fury,

our vision often blurry

during our brief stay—

and yet we find a way

with stories and art

to share our hearts.

 

Once we had leaders who valued art

and learning,

understood the yearning to know

truth and beauty.

It is our duty

then to spread such ideas,

no matter what he says

and they believe

the false faces and words

that constantly deceive.

Yes, the storm is coming

and let it blow

away the discordant tunes

and the starless nights

for bright humming moons

and radiant light.

 

Sister Cities Fountain

 

 

 

 

Anticipation: Tanka

This tanka is for Colleen’s Tanka Tuesday, using synonyms for the words experience and new.

 

Anticipation—

through space and time I travel

novel paths explored

 

treasures buried in a phrase

discovered, they haunt my dreams

 

I went to West Deptford Township Public Library yesterday to return my books and renew one. Of course, I left with a new stack, even though I have books piled by my bed and a long list on my Kindle.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

True Confessions, Library Version

A book is a dream that you hold in your hand.

–Neil Gaiman

My brain seems to be fixated on writing about books and the pleasure of reading, so this post might be seen as Part II of last Wednesday’s post, or Part Whatever in the story of my life. It’s here, if you’re interested.

On Friday I went to my local public library to return my books and check out new ones. I can spend hours browsing the stacks at a library. I HAVE spent hours. I like to browse. Sometimes I find a book I’ve wanted to read or the latest book by an author whose previous works I’ve read and enjoyed. Sometimes I find a new treasure. So many books! How to choose?

I feel such anticipation in looking for new books to read. I suppose it is similar to how some people feel about shopping for clothing. Or window shopping, which I really don’t get. Shopping for clothing or shoes is fun on occasion, especially if I find something that I like (that also fits), or if I’m spending time with my daughters–but then it’s not really about the clothes, is it? It’s about the companionship.

Anyway on Friday, I realized how excited I was about looking for books to read. I mean I never thought about it before–that I get excited about this. But I suspect that I’m not the only one, right? True confessions time. So I’m a nerd, and maybe I need a more exciting life, but at least I’ll have something interesting to discuss over dinner. Or I will once I get my head out of a book.

I always pick out an armful of books because I can’t decide what I want to read right then, and what I might want to read once I actually get home and have a chance to read. I like to have choices. Choices are good, right? I think that’s why it’s more fun–for me–to roam and browse in a public library than in a bookstore where I have to choose only one or two books. Too much pressure—what if I choose the wrong one? (Research libraries and archives are different, obviously, but finding a hidden treasure in an archive is also wonderful.)

Sometimes I choose a variety of novels—hmm, do I want to read a literary novel or something more popular? OK. I’ll get both. How about this historical novel? And a mystery, too? Yes, please. Or maybe that new cookbook. . .

This was my selection on Friday.

What to read?

What to read?

There were several more books I wanted to borrow but I restrained myself. It was difficult though. Thank goodness for renewals–and libraries with lots of books.

I read one novel at a time. Yes, I practice serial monogamy with my novels. Occasionally, I’ll casually date a book, but then after a few chapters we part and go our separate ways. Maybe I’ll call again sometime in the future. On further reflection we might actually have quite a bit in common. Maybe we each had our own issues to work out on that first date. It’s not you; it’s me.

I also go back and re-read books. They’re like old friends, comfortable and familiar, but still capable of surprising you.

There are books that I read quickly. It’s all fast and furious and ends with an explosive climax. Other books I read slowly, caught in the mood, lingering over passages, tasting the sweetness of a phrase, and embracing the fictional world I’ve entered until the very end. Part of my mind says, “Oh, Hurry! Faster! Read faster.” But another part of my brain says, “No, slow down. Oh YES! That phrase there.” But then the anticipation rises, and I have to go faster, faster . . .until I read those final words—and it’s over. Breathe. Back to reality.

Whew. Is it suddenly warm in here?

I better go now. I have books to read, and new worlds to explore, at least in my mind.

“A great book should leave you with many experiences, and slightly exhausted at the end. You live several lives while reading.”

–William Styron

On Books, Harper Lee, and Coincidence

By now most readers have probably heard that Harper Lee, author of To Kill a Mockingbird, will be publishing a sequel to the beloved novel. This sequel will be out this coming July. The new book is set in the 1950s, twenty years later than To Kill a Mockingbird, and it focuses on a now-grown Scout and her father, Atticus Finch. Lee, however, wrote this sequel before she wrote To Kill a Mockingbird, which she wrote at the suggestion of her editor who wanted to see a novel told in the voice of a young Scout.

A few days ago, I was thinking about favorite books and what I read as a child and young adult. My younger daughter and I were discussing how much we both love the novel Jane Eyre. My niece mentioned that if she sees a movie version of a book, then she never reads the book, and if she reads a book, then she doesn’t want to see the movie version. I think movies and books are different forms of media and storytelling, and should be enjoyed on their own terms. (We were discussing The Hunger Games trilogy.) While we were talking, I thought of To Kill a Mockingbird, and how much I love both the book and the movie. I’m fairly certain I saw the movie first on network TV when I was a child, and then at some point, I found the book in my house, and recognizing the title, I decided to read it. Perhaps I was about 11? I’m certain I did not understand it all that first time, but I understood I was reading something wonderful. I’ve re-read the book several times (and I do picture Atticus looking exactly like Gregory Peck, not a bad thing). I don’t think I ever read the book as a school assignment, but I did re-read it when it was assigned to one of my daughters.

I’m sure I would have read To Kill a Mockingbird at some point in my life. After all, I did borrow it from the library when I was older, but I would not have read it that first time, if it hadn’t been in my house. I thought of all the books I read when I was young—simply because they were there. My mom took me to the library, I borrowed books from the school library, and I also bought Scholastic Books (including the copy of Wuthering Heights that I’ve mentioned in previous posts), but our house was always filled with books. I think that having so many books in the house–including the books of older siblings that I “borrowed”– influenced what and when I read. I wonder if mainly having books on e-readers and tablets limits that broader type of browsing? This is not a Luddite rant. I love my Kindle, but if I had a young child at home, he or she would probably not be reading the books on it. The fact that my girls grew up seeing my books on sex in history lying about the house is an entirely different conversation!

Education and reading are important themes in To Kill a Mockingbird. Scout would have been a very different character if Atticus had not read to her and taught her to read at an early age. How does coincidence and what we read affect what we do and what we think? There must be some connection. Things to ponder.

A friend said to me recently that she had read several novels set during WWII, but that it was a coincidence. I’ve had the same thing happen. Once many years ago, I read a novel set during WWII, then another one that had an important WWII back story that I didn’t know about until I started reading the book. While I was reading one of these books, my family and I watched an episode of Star Trek Voyager in which the some crew members were caught in WWII holodeck program. Isn’t coincidence strange?

My husband and I watched the second episode of the British TV show Grantchester last night, now airing on PBS. (And now that I think about it, the story is set in post-WWII England and the main character, the young Anglican vicar, has flashbacks to WWII battles. Hmmmm.) Coincidentally, as I was thinking about coincidence, the vicar and his inspector friend discussed coincidence. “I don’t believe in coincidences,” says our vicar, as he looks at the body of a woman who had been murdered. “That’s funny, I don’t believe in God,” says the inspector. They return to the idea of coincidence and belief later in the episode.

So did you think you’d read one of my posts that does not mention food? Let me reassure you that the To Kill a Mockingbird scene in which Walter Cunningham pours molasses all over his food is one that made a big impression on me, and that there are many food references in the book. In watching the episode of Grantchester last night, I noticed that a dinner party and fruitcake are important plot elements. Coincidence that I would remember these things? I think not.

“People generally see what they look for, and hear what they listen for.”

-Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

Colors of Love

 When we were little

You took us to the library,

our nearby Dallas branch.

My sister and I chose books

in the children’s section,

then wandered through the library,

where we stood over the air vents

and let our skirts fly up as we twirled,

simply because we were young

and it was fun.

I sometimes sat on your bed

and read my books aloud to you,

while you put on your makeup

or brushed your hair—

it was coffee brown then.

You stood in the attached bathroom.

We called it “the pink bathroom.”

But I never realized until just now

how important color was in our lives–

that we labeled rooms by color.

 

You, an artist in your soul,

see color everywhere.

You would liked to have gone to art school,

but your parents thought that was impractical.

And so you chose colors where you could

for your walls,

for your furnishings,

for our clothing.

I remember the blue and gray suede shoes

you saw for me when you worked

at Lord and Taylor’s.

And how fun you thought orange woodwork would be

in the room my sister and I shared

in Havertown.

You collected Chinese ceramics,

the beautiful turquoise hue

adding more color

to your surroundings,

but you didn’t have the time to paint

flowers or landscapes

while we were young.

You were busy working

and driving us to lessons

and taking care of us when we were sick.

But you made certain we knew colors–

and had art—crayons, paper, and homemade clay,

a special treat for rainy days.

And your color-knowledge passed to my daughters.

Our first-born gray-eyed daughter

still a toddler telling her father

she wanted to go to the restaurant

with the green door.

(We had never noticed the door.)

But she always remembered colors,

and taught color names and knowledge to her sister,

before I even had a chance.

What is the opposite of color blindness?

Is it marked on our genes?

 

You and my father,

though you disagreed and parted,

did agree about many things.

You agreed on the importance of art, music,

and books.

I read nearly all of the books

in the built-in bookcase in our family room.

Rows of long shelves filled with books

their spines in shades of brown, blue, red,

green, and white,

bringing random color to the wall.

It didn’t matter what they were,

history, art, the classics—

I read them.

And I found the jumbo-sized

Hershey’s chocolate bar hidden there, too.

I broke off squares for my sister and me–

and then neatly shelved the bar

back into the bookcase,

where it appeared to be just another book.

 

Now your hair is white,

and my tangled brown curls

are gone.

The colors of my childhood have vanished,

but the memories remain.

I didn’t realize that not all households held such treasures—

books, art, and music, I mean.

I didn’t realize

that all families don’t visit museums

or play “the dictionary game” at the dinner table.

I didn’t realize–

how fortunate we were.

There was always love for us.

And books,

And color,

And, chocolate, of course.

 ©Merril D. Smith, May 2014

Image

At Valley Green, along the Wishahickon.

 

New Book: History of American Cooking

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I am happy to announce that my latest book, History of American Cooking (ABC-CLIO Press), is available for purchase! [Cue the drum roll and trumpet fanfare.] OK. This news might not be all that exciting to you, but I received my author’s copies yesterday, and holding the book that you’ve labored over for months or years never gets old. Trust me.

What this book is:

*A concise reference for students and the general public

What this book is NOT:

*A cookbook

*A book for food historians and scholars

What this book includes:

*An examination of the history and practice of cooking from approximately the 15th century to the present

*A focus on one particular cooking method, such as baking or broiling, per chapter.

*In-depth discussions of such dishes as fried chicken, doughnuts, and Thanksgiving turkey

*A chronology

*Sample recipes, mainly from 19th century sources

*Witty asides and pop culture references (Well, you can decide.)

How do I get this amazing book?

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/history-of-american-cooking-merril-d-smith/1112077272

http://www.amazon.com/History-American-Cooking-Merril-Smith/dp/0313387117

http://www.abc-clio.com/product.aspx?id=2147543574

I would be grateful if you would recommend this book to your public or school libraries, if you feel it would be of interest.

Revisiting Manderley

Something you should know about me: I love books, and I love libraries. I could—and I have actually–spent hours wandering around a library. I don’t mean research trips. I mean simply wandering through the stacks for the sheer pleasure of picking up and looking through books.

When I was little girl, my mom would take my little sister and me to a nearby branch of the Dallas, Texas library. There she would let us wander around the children’s section while she browsed for books for herself. Even before I could read, I loved wandering through the stacks and picking up books. My favorites were Maurice Sendak’s Pierre and Chicken Soup with Rice. I knew exactly where they lived in the children’s section. After my sister and I chose the books we wanted, we would wander around the library. While we were waiting for my mom, we would play one of our favorite games– standing over the heating/cooling vents to make our dresses (because in the early 1960s, little girls wore dresses, not pants) blow up practically to our faces as we giggled. I suppose it looked like little girls imitating Marilyn Monroe, except that we had no idea who she was, and as far as we knew, we were the only people who had ever thought of standing over a vent.

When I was in seventh grade my parents got divorced. In the middle of the school year, my mother, sisters, and I moved from Dallas, Texas to Havertown, a suburb of Philadelphia, where my father’s sisters and their families lived. A day or two after our move, I was in the library at Haverford Township Junior High. It was tucked between the “modern” wing of the stone building and its older section, a sort of junior high no man’s zone that always seemed to be empty of students. I was suffering a bit of culture shock; although we regularly visited Philadelphia and family in the suburbs, and I was far more “east coast” than Texan, the Haverford Township schools were far more rigorous and completely different from the ones we had attended in Dallas. Libraries, however, are libraries wherever they are.

I scanned the shelves eagerly, looking for something to read, something that would help to fill my spare time. I noticed a book with the one-word title, Rebecca, on its spine. I had never heard of the book, but I liked the name Rebecca, and I wondered who she was. When I got home to my aunt’s house, where we were staying temporarily, I found a comfortable chair, and started to read the book. I was instantly engrossed in the nameless heroine’s story (and yes, I now picture her as Joan Fontaine).

“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.”  Recently, I realized this first line from Daphne Du Maurier’s novel, Rebecca, has to be one of my all-time favorite first lines. Perhaps it is not so much the sentence itself as it is the memory of how the book swept me, a scared, shy seventh grader, into a world of secrets and intrigue in 1930s Cornwall, and how that escape helped to comfort me in a new situation.