Saturday, October 8, 2016

Ephemera: The Brontes, Hemingway, and Joe Reader

One day while visiting my local used bookshop, I found a letter inside one of the books dated from the 1960s, I felt like I had found some sort of hidden treasure. Steve, the bookshop owner, was less enthusiastic, saying that these items dropped through his hands all the time on their way to the trash. So he had no problem parting with it. I went home, eager to explore this lost heirloom, something that was certain to shed light on a secret world long gone.

It turned out to be rather tepid: the mother of a college student relating all the social happenings in their obviously affluent world. And though it didn't come close to the interest level of the postcard collection I own from one turn-of-the-other-century woman in downstate Illinois, I still liked it; the address indentation is also something from a bygone era. And the daughter certainly didn't seem to treasure it enough to recall where she'd put it. That in itself is a story. 

Which brings me to the subject of today's post: literary ephemera. Apparently I'm not the only one who finds this sort of thing fascinating: there's an entire book with pictures of similar items called Forgotten Bookmarks. The author is himself a used bookstore owner who has kept a record of these lost bookmarks. What makes Forgotten Bookmarks so interesting is that he not only shows the letters, photos, and other fascinating/dull ephemera found in the middle of books but he also shows the books in which these items were found. Some of them make fascinating connections.

What about the ephemera of famous authors? When I first realized that there was a book on the Bronte's regarding some of their personal items, I somehow imagined a coffee table book. Never mind that the title contains the number nine, as in The Bronte Cabinet: Three Lives in Nine Items (duh!). But once I got over my ignorance-based disappointment, I came to see that The Bronte Cabinet is a brilliant idea for a book. Considering that these beloved authors left behind so little of their actual selves, it's fascinating to view their lives from the prism of some of their belongings, such as their handmade journals, their portable writing desks, etc. The author not only looks at these key items in themselves but as they appear throughout all of the Bronte novels.

And finally, the glossiest, most impressive-looking book in the group belongs to Ernest Hemingway, or at least a group of authors who decided to publish a book on the holdings of the Ernest Hemingway archives in Oak Park, IL, Hemingway's birthplace and boyhood suburb. 

I must admit that I am not a fan of either the man or his writing, even though my husband and I sing at the Birthplace Home each Boxing Day and I've volunteered in the archives. I just can't understand what the fuss is all about and far prefer the writing of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Hemingway's tortured compatriot. But the archive holdings certainly tell a story and if The Bronte Cabinet tells a detailed story of three authors from the point of view of a few pieces of ephemera, Hidden Hemingway tells the story of the ephemera. It doesn't necessarily shed any additional light on its subject but fans of the writer will certainly find much to enjoy within its glossy pages. 

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Alcohol-enjoying librarians are honored in a Barbara Pym quote

"'I think I should prefer a glass of lemon squash,' said Miss Lydgate.

This was a relief, if only a slight one, Digby felt, as he assured Miss Clovis that he and Mark never drank in the middle of the day.

'I feel one shouldn't go into learned societies or libraries smelling of drink,' said Mark, at his most prim. 'It might create the wrong impression.'

'Oh, I hadn't thought of that,' said Miss Clovis, sipping her dark foamy drink. 'I don't suppose anyone would notice. Of course, it's all right for librarians to smell of drink,' she added jovially.

'Of course,' said Digby enthusiastically."

From chapter eight of Barbara Pym's Less Than Angels

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Scary Mary

When I first encountered this spoofy video on Facebook, I found it highly amusing. Yes, perhaps the cool primness of Julie Andrews' Mary Poppins bordered on the frigid. But she was nothing like the Mary Poppins of the book, a fact I realized when I finally read it a few years ago.

But even that icy creature is nothing compared with the Mary Poppins featured in the first few chapters of the sequel, Mary Poppins Comes Back. In this section are two scenes which paint her didactic personality with even colder, darker strokes.

For instance, just after Miss Poppins reenters the Banks household, following close on her heels is Euphemia Andrew, Mr. Banks' enormous, terrifying former governess. Miss Andrew has come to stay, unannounced, doling out unwelcome child-rearing advice to anyone who will listen. Mary Poppins will definitely not listen:

"'Thank you, ma'am' said Mary Poppins with icy politeness, 'But I bring the children up in my own way and take advice from nobody.'"

The miffed and shocked Miss Andrew makes a fatal mistake: during her retort, she refers to Mary, not by her name (she hasn't bothered to ask), but as "Young woman." All her subsequent demands for Mary's sacking are nothing to this.

So when Mary discovers that the formidable Miss Andrew keeps a caged lark, she speaks to the creature and discovers that it was once free. To make a long story short, Mary wields her magic and soon the lark is flying through the air, carrying in its beak a cage inhabited by a screaming Miss Andrew.

After a survivable crash, and a forced apology, Miss Andrew hightails it out of the Banks household quicker than you can say, "My, that was little creepy."

But the creepiness has, apparently, come to stay. In the very next chapter, "Bad Wednesday," Mary punishes a grumpy Jane by leaving her all alone in a room with a demonic plate; that is, a plate with painted figures who lure Jane into their Hotel California world, then refuse to let her leave.

Terrified, Jane begins to shout for Mary Poppins who eventually pulls her out of her captor's encircling arms. She's safe, yes, but apparently post-traumatic stress wasn't yet a thing back in Edwardian England.

I haven't yet continued reading, but yes, this Mary is a little scary.

Saturday, July 2, 2016


The train whistles
as the boys fight invisible enemies with gusto and plastic swords
forcing sound effects from their mouths with every thrust.

The conductor calls the stop
as the warrior knights fight each other. 
A few rays of the falling sun press between the nearby houses
to run glowing fingers through the boys' hair
as they join forces to scale castle battlements.

The train pulls away
as the boys swing together in the twilight.
I wish they could stay, defying gravity and the globe's motion,
forever entertained with swords and swings.
But the lights of the train are dim now and its rumblings distant
and it's time for us to go. 

The DesPlaines River at Twilight

A deer emerges from the woods.
The geese at the river's edge silently make way
for this queen of twilight. 
When her graceful neck bends to drink
I know a surfeit of wonder. 

But the moment grows. She steps into the water
till all is gone save a lovely, determined head.
Emerging, her hooves find a man-made bank
and its green reward.

(The deer in the above poem came out of the area near the clump of bushes on the right, swam/walked across the river to the cement bank appearing below the buildings on the left/center and began to eat the foliage seen there. This occurred about 45 minutes after this photo was taken).

Thursday, June 30, 2016


He is descended from Dutch farmers and Puritan nobles
and his truthful eyes whisper the promise of honorable manhood.
His conscience is as golden as his straight hair and as prominent as his perfect nose.
He tentatively offers this perfection to the world.
He is a generous pirate of story and humor, delighted to share each treasure he finds.

He is like the sun waiting impatiently behind the clouds for another turn at center stage.
He has passionate dreams of being Legolas, the warrior elf
but settles for fighting invisible Orcs on playground equipment.
His soul is full of music, played in his head with a full orchestra that comes into being through the tiny hole of his pursed lips.

A thousand tiny bright colors collide when she laughs at her brother.
Her porcelain skin envelopes a profile heartbreaking as a china doll.
Her blond curls are tight as her will and her skin transparent as her soul,
which pours out stories and music, strumming non-chords for clear song.