“Book Happy”

As a child, I was entranced by my grandfather’s study.  Grandpa and Grandma lived on a quiet leafy street in a big brown house that always smelled warm and cozy and I felt embraced by it the moment I entered.  The study was a very small room.  There were bookcases on every wall and the desk was overflowing with papers and more books.  There were even stacks of books on the floor.  Other than the public library, it was more books in one place than I’d ever seen.

There was just enough room to turn around in and pivot to look at the shelves.  I was allowed to go in and just look which I did.  I couldn’t have been more than eight at the time and was already an avid reader.  These were books mostly about literature (Grandpa being a professor at the university) and while I wasn’t ready to read them, I liked gazing at the spines and pulling out an occasional volume here and there to inspect it.  The room smelled of paper and ink—slightly dusty—and I would spend long moments just contemplating the scene.  As I grew older, I spent more time here and would even read a few pages or an introduction.  Struck by all these books which Grandpa obviously cherished, I dubbed him “book happy.”

When I was a teenager, my grandparents moved to a split level house on the other side of their town.  With its new house fresh paint smell, it was spacious and modern and slightly standoffish, but Grandpa’s study on the ground floor was expansive—two to three times the size of the old one.  Here too there were bookcases lining the walls, a large desk, and the ever present stacks of books and papers on every surface, floor included.  This room was lighter and brighter than his old study, and I passed the time here as well, always welcomed into his lair by my grandfather.

Today, I have my own small study—not as many bookcases as Grandpa had, but still a wall of shelves including the New York edition of the works of Henry James, given to me by him and one of my treasures.  I do own a Kindle Paperwhite and I do appreciate the convenience of having many books on it when I travel, but there is a sameness to books read on a device. They all look alike.  At heart, I’m a lover of paper books and an acquisitive one at that.  I gave away hundreds of books before moving, but will continue to buy books going forward.  I like the feel of a book, that tactile experience, and I derive visual pleasure from the design and color of book jackets and the variety of fonts on the page.  I think it’s fair to say I’m “book happy” too.


Movie of the Week:  I can’t recall if I ever walked out of a movie before, but this week I did. Given all the press “Birdman” was getting, we decided we should go see it.  Even beforehand, I didn’t particularly care for the premise.  I suffered through not quite an hour before I suggested we leave. Fortunately, my husband was in agreement.  I didn’t like any of the characters, thought the language was overly vulgar, and found the narrow corridors of the film’s setting dull and tedious.  I couldn’t take a second hour.  A woman I overheard the week before said she found the movie “weird,” but she didn’t say “don’t go to it.”  Anyway, not a winner for me.

Tidy Tidbits: Women, Film & Cheese

Book of the WeekO My America! Six Women and their Second Acts in a New World by Sara Wheeler.  This is a delightful romp through the 19th century with six middle-aged women, each of whom re-invented herself in the United States and either published a book about her experiences or journaled extensively.  Wheeler is primarily a travel writer who was prompted to write this work by her own anxiety about turning 50 and her uncertainty about her identity at this stage of life.  She not only researched the travels of Fanny Kemble, Fanny Trollope and four other women most of us haven’t heard of but, an English woman herself, she followed in their footsteps over the course of several years traveling in the South, New England, Colorado, the Midwest, and lastly, California.  None of her “girls” as she calls them had an easy time of it, but they persevered and her wry comments about them and herself add a distinctive personal note to these accounts.  I found the descriptions of Oakland and San Francisco in the 1870’s particularly intriguing given my familiarity with that region.

Movie of the Week:  We went to see Selma and I highly recommend it.  Whatever you might think about the film’s portrayal of President Johnson (accurate or slanted), it is a powerful and grim reminder of the events of 1965 and extremely relevant given the ongoing national discussion about race and the police.  I was a teenager when these events took place and while I knew about them at the time, they happened far away and did not impinge on my daily life.  Seeing them on the screen was chilling—that we put up such barriers to allowing people to vote and inflicted such brutality on innocent individuals.  Unfortunately, there are some states today enacting legislation to again make it more arduous to register to vote.  See it!

Music Scene:  Rich and Brandon Ridenour are a father and son music duo.  Father Rich is a pianist and son Brandon, a former member of the Canadian Brass, is a trumpeter and composer/arranger.  They are also lively personalities with a wry sense of humor.  We heard them in conversation and performing their versions of Rhapsody in Blue, Chopsticks and a meld of Simple Gifts and Amazing Grace.  For Rhapsody, Brandon alternated between the trumpet, the piccolo trumpet (or baby trumpet as they called it in their household), and the flugelhorn (or pregnant trumpet).  Upcoming concerts include Sarasota later in the spring.

Local Discovery:  We made our first visit to Artisan Cheese Company on Main Street in Sarasota recently and it’s a treasure!  The cheese mongers are all women and their selection is modest in size, but carefully chosen.  We went home with a creamy Camembert, perfect Roquefort, and a new-to-us cheese from upstate NY (specifically Cazenovia, near where I grew up) called Lorenzo.  It is a semi-hard mild cheese and a counterpoint to the other two.  I foresee regular stops at this shop.

Booknote: Youth and Food

This week I have two books to recommend.  One is serious and to be savored, the other fun and a quick read.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr.  This is a magnificent book, and that’s an adjective I seldom, if ever, use to describe a novel.  Two parallel stories, two lives, one of a blind French girl, the other a foster German boy who is taken up by the Nazis, lives which you know must converge eventually.  And they do.  But getting there is long and detailed and sometimes painful.  Like a deck of cards cut and then re-cut and stacked, the chapters are brief, sometimes only a page, and occasionally out of order in time and then layered and re-layered until the inevitable meeting. For natural history buffs, the depiction of the Paris Jardin des Plantes is an added delight.  The book is long–500 pages–and demands to be read slowly.

Delicious! by Ruth Reichl.  A complete change of pace, this is a foodie’s treat and an ugly-duckling-becomes-swan tale all in one.  I thought this might be just a frothy confection, but Reichl knows how to tell a good story.  From the thinly disguised Gourmet magazine (here known as Delicious!), to Sal’s marvelous shop doling out cheese and cheer, to James Beard as a character, there is mystery, friendship and enough good food to send you to the kitchen.  Just plain fun!

Tidy Tidbits: Sarasota Music Scene

We’re discovering a wealth of culture here in Southwest Florida!  The Sarasota-Bradenton area has a seemingly infinite array of music and theater opportunities.  In just the past two months we’ve taken advantage of several.  One Sunday November afternoon, we attended a string quartet chamber concert featuring members of the Sarasota Symphony.  It turns out that this symphony, previously with the bland name of  Florida West Coast Symphony,  has been around for more than 65 years and is the oldest in the state!   On the anniversary of Pearl Harbor Day, we heard the full orchestra with a guest conductor and pianist in a symphony of American music including a work by Samuel Barber along with Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue.  A patriotic, but not overdone afternoon.  Before the holidays, we were delighted with the Asolo Repertory Theatre’s production of that classic, South Pacific.  With the heightened awareness of black-white tensions in several US cities, this performance was timely for sure.  It is part of the theater’s  5-year American Character project, now in its second season.

This week, we discovered the world of the Sarasota Institute of Lifelong Learning (SILL). As someone whose job on the other coast was all about lifelong learning, it’s fun to be able to take advantage of someone else’s programs.  SILL has been in existence for 44 years and we are signed up for Music Mondays.  Twelve weeks of conversation and performance related to many aspects of music!  Week one featured the composer Theodore Morrison whose latest work, Oscar,  an opera about Oscar Wilde’s trial, will be performed in Philadelphia in February.  He was joined by the countertenor understudy for the role of Oscar who sang several aria excerpts for the audience.  The host of this program, June LeBell, is dynamic, knows her stuff, and kept up a lively pace.

Before the week is over, we’ll be at another SO concert—this one conducted by the new and exciting Anu Tali.  Can’t wait to see this female conductor in action!