Sunday, October 28, 2012

A Brief Spell of Perfect Weather

I've always been friends with books. I credit my mother who often had a book in her hands and would read on the couch in her apron as she waited for dinner to finish cooking. My sixth grade teacher, Mrs. Hibbert, told me that to rip a page out of a book or destroy it, was a crime.  I believed her and always felt that books should be cherished and taken care of and given to someone else to love when they are not wanted anymore.  Mrs. Hibbert also helped me be discerning in my reading material as the books we chose for book reports had to receive her final approval. She vetoed my book choice only once, saying it was too pedestrian.  She didn't have to belabor it - I knew the book was poorly written and a bit sensational.  Her comparison stayed with me though, and I believe she gave me a pretty good eye for books.

Today I rarely see a woman reading a book.  Not even an eBook.  When someone has free time, they're usually texting or on the internet.  It's sometimes hard to let go of connections and let oneself become immersed in a book.  But it's such a great feeling to get lost somewhere else for a time and a good book can take you to so many places.  Finding just such a book is harder and harder and that's why I often reread the classics.  But I long for that great new read, that holy grail of a book that takes me away and then drops me back at the end into my real life, changed and better.

I recall easily the long winter nights of childhood when I curled up on the love seat in front of the fire, engrossed in Anne of Green Gables, Little Women, and The Wind in the Willows.  Home from college, there was the blizzard that lasted five days, just long enough to devour Anna Karenina.  If the book made me cry, all the better. 

Reading a book is good for the soul and sometimes when the world is too much, I comfort myself knowing that a book is waiting and I can escape for a bit, get lost in someone else's world or best of all, feel less alone because someone on the page has also overcome tribulations. I "awaken" from my book altered and even if challenges await, the respite from my travels sustains me for what is to come.  Like a brief spell of perfect weather just before winter.

Recent Holy Grails:
Ladies of Missalogni
Diary of a Provincial Lady
A Stopover in Venice
High Wages


Ed. Note:  I almost changed the title of this blog post.  It was written several days before we lived through a very frightening hurricane that nearly took the house down.  How did I survive the tumult?  I read under the covers by flashlight and candlelight!  The most important thing is that everyone is safe and I continue to pray for those who lost their homes.
(Me, reading on the love seat by the fire.)

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Miss Sarton's Postcard

When I was living near Boston, I found a gentle read at the library filled with references to my favorite city. “The Education of Harriet Hatfield” by May Sarton is a sweet story of an elderly woman who opens a small Boston bookshop when her lifelong companion dies. Being lesbian, she is subjected to suspicion and harassment but receives support from a new collection of unlikely friends. I was especially intrigued with a young couple whose age Harriet had long left behind, and since reading the book, I like to collect grandmothers when I can.  I was so enamored with the book’s gentle story, I decided to write Miss Sarton and tell her. Without the internet, I only knew that she lived in Camden Maine so I addressed my fan letter “Miss May Sarton, Camden, Maine”.

Not long afterwards, I received a simple postcard from Miss Sarton but unfortunately, it was indecipherable – the handwriting was illegible, scrawled and shaky. I placed the card for safekeeping in my letter box along with other meaningful cards saved through the years.

On Valentine's Day last, I came across an essay written by May Sarton about the holiday. She never liked it until one year, near her death, when a secret campaign was begun. She found herself flooded with dozens of pretty valentines from old friends, great nieces and nephews, former agents and colleagues. She described how going to the mailbox turned into such a delightful adventure, how each card was more beautiful than the last. She fanned them out and admired them over and over, and then wrote, “I am a spoiled and greedy old valentine now.”

Recently a friend came to visit and with her eagle editorial eye, she efficiently transcribed Miss Sarton’s postcard for me:

April 1993
Dear Emily,
Thank you so much for your note about Harriet. I enjoyed bringing her to life. You know, I never got much fan mail. One needs to hear that the masses at least in some approximation like what you’ve done. It takes another writer to write I suppose. I am so glad that not only did you love my book but that you told me! Good luck with your writing. You may not hear from anybody at all. But perhaps, one day in the future someone will write. Write for HER.
Miss Sarton has been gone a while but her encouraging and dear response is as charmingly fresh as if it had been dropped into my mailbox yesterday morning. And there’s no living with me now as I find myself feeling rather spoiled and greedy.  What can I write for YOU dear reader?  Anybody?