Matched Sets


You remember that Louisa May Alcott quote, She is too fond of books and it has turned her brain? Here is a corollary: She is too too fond of matching sets.

I have a birthday coming up. One that ends in zero and exceeds half a century. Since three of my family or origin (mother, father, sister) did not live to see the birthday that is 7/10 of a century, I gave myself permission to go for the gusto in making my wishes known.

It’s extravagant. Indubitably redundant. But, oh, so resplendent. And significantly pleasant!  Irrational and beautiful.

Reading all of Shakespeare this year has been such a positive experience that I plan an ‘all of {   } project’ the rest of my life. And surely one of those authors is C.S. Lewis. When I saw this set  I was conquered, subjugated, overwhelmed. In a season of releasing books, I gladly acquired these gems and will joyfully distribute the duplicates.

Something else made me deliriously giddy.


This is my set of commonplace journals, beginning with 2007. (I have earlier commonplace books, but, alas, they don’t match.) I had a fright when the box store which shall not be named stopped selling these. Amazon sells them, but at more than twice what I had been paying. I discovered Staples now sells them! I’m ready for four more years of quotes, wedding invitations, doodles, news clippings, and recommendations. It’s a bullet journal (sort of) that focuses more on thinking than doing. And —joy!— they match!

More glorious matchingness

The two on the left are the only remaining of the original set given me by my dad and mom, which I lent out with abandon and lost. My sister gave me the new hardbound set. It’s picky, I know, but don’t you think they could’ve made Laura Ingalls Wilder printed at the same place on the spine?

Ah, Wendell. His Port Williams stories are top shelf. The publisher didn’t get the spine design uniform, but we’ll let it go.

Barbara Tuchman makes history read like a novel. If you feel unsure about why World War 1 was fought, The Guns of August is the book to read.

Reading a set of Churchill is like going on a diet. You need time to prepare yourself mentally for the challenge. But, oh!, the words!

My sons and I gobbled up this Ralph Moody set. My oldest and I used to hide it from each other so we wouldn’t have to share it.

No one in my circle of friends, neighbors, and acquaintances uses the word jonesing. Although I know jonesing is usually used in the context of recreational drugs (at least I think it is, but my middle name is Naïve), I can confidently say that I am jonesing for the complete hardbound set by Overlook. (You won’t believe how many greenbacks are needed for these hardbacks! Click on Overlook!)

The Penguins. Friends. Hear me! Amazon sells 80 classics for $77.98!?!?!?  Be still, my finger. But, seriously, that is an amazing price, and would grace any bookshelf. This is quite the discovery for a sleepy Saturday…  Back to my shelf: you notice my Trollopes are divided? Yes, even the penguins editions must stay together. We can’t have top red stripes comingling with the lower white stripes.
DSC_3854 I found this Blackie and Son set at an Eagle River, Wisconsin antique store in 1996. I groaned because it cost $45; I wanted it, but $45 for books, beautiful watercolors notwithstanding, was not even [voice fades] blah blah blah. One of my siblings heard my groan, flipped me a fifty, and told me to buy it. This is what comes of being the youngest child, a habit I highly recommend.

Back to the CS Lewis set. Are you wondering with me about the spine on The Weight of Glory? (see top photo) Hello, Harper One? What was that about?

[In that x3-speed radio voice at the end of commercials: …affiliate links…no extra cost…helps my habit…thanks a million…]


And Some More Bookish Questions

DSC_0245Sherry at Semicolon posted this fun meme this morning. Here are my answers (today).

1. What propelled your love affair with books — any particular title or a moment?
I grew up in a book-saturated home: books in every room, books in front of every face; never a day without books. Books were not allowed at the dinner table, but most of us tried at one time to hold a compelling book in our lap, under the table, and keep reading. It was inconceivable to grew up a Harper and not love books.

2. Which fictional character would you like to be friends with and why?
Laura Ingalls Wilder was my first fixation and she remains with me, especially at this time of the year. Yesterday, I was making a year’s supply of fire starters (dryer lint stuffed into egg cartons with melted wax poured over it) and thought of Pa and Ma’s preparations for winter. (OK, I missed the word fictional…give me a pass, please?)

DSC_65453. Do you write your name on your books or use bookplates?
All but the best books I read are on a rotation: in the house, read, out of the house. When I write my name I always write it in pencil. I’ve found that the book I love today and think I’ll keep forever might get the boot in ten years.

4. What was your favourite book read this year?
Carol Montparker’s memoir, A Pianist’s Landscape. Here’s a sample. I think an essential mark of an artist is how he or she recovers from a mishap.

5. If you could read in another language, which language would you choose?
Not just one. I’m starting to twitch from the demands of decisions. I’d love to read my father’s Greek New Testament with the cranberry cover. I’d love to read the Latin books on my shelf. I’d swoon if I could read a French book aloud with exquisite pronunciation. And why not Russian? Or Arabic? Or Portuguese?

6. Name a book that made you both laugh and cry.
Jan Karon’s return to Mitford produced loud guffaw-laughs, ugly cries, and everything in between.

7. Share with us your favourite poem.
That f word is making me crazy, even with the charming British spelling. Gerard Manley Hopkins Pied Beauty. Billy Collins The Lanyard . To snort with laughter at his Litany….And you are certainly not the pine-scented air. There is just no way that you are the pine-scented air. There is Wendell Berry’s Manifesto with those last two words: Practice resurrection.

But in this moment, my mind goes to Michelangelo’s LXXIII.

Well-nigh the voyage now is overpast,
And my frail bark, through troubled seas and rude,
Draws near that common haven where at last
Of every action, be it evil or good,
Must due account be rendered. Well I know
How vain will then appear that favoured art,
Sole Idol long and Monarch of my heart,
For all is vain that man desires below.
And now remorseful thoughts the past upbraid,
And fear of twofold death my soul alarms,
That which must come, and that beyond the grave:
Picture and Sculpture lose their feeble charms,
And to that Love Divine I turn for aid,
Who from the Cross extends his arms to save.

I love that old translation, but I have a newer one tucked into the page. Which one do you prefer?

Unburdened by the body’s fierce demands,
And now at last released from my frail boat,
Dear God, I put myself into your hands;

Smooth the rough waves on which my ship must float.

The thorns, the nails, the wounds in both your palms,
The gentleness, the pity on your face—
For great repentance, these have promised grace.
My soul will find salvation in your arms.

And let not justice only fill your eyes,
But mercy too. Oh temper your severe
Judgment with tenderness, relieve my burden.

Let your own blood remove my faults and clear
My guilt, and let your grace so strongly rise
That I am granted an entire pardon.

Please join me and link to your answers (or just write them there) in the comments. If your time is limited, take just one question.

Love Continuing in Gratitude


We measure time by its deaths, yes, and by its births. 

For time is told also by life. 
As some depart, others come. 
The hand opened in farewell remains open in welcome.

[…] And time that is told by death and birth
 is held and redeemed by love, which is always present.
 Time, then, is told by love’s losses,
and by the coming of love,
and by love continuing in gratitude for what is lost. 

It is folded
and enfolded
and unfolded
forever and ever,
the love by which the dead are alive
and the unborn welcomed into the womb. 

The great question for the old and the dying,
I think, is not if they have loved and been loved enough,
but if they have been grateful enough
for love received and given, however much. 
No one who has gratitude is the onliest one. 
Let us pray to be grateful to the last.

~ Wendell Berry in Andy Catlett


— Do you call yourself an agrarian?

— Not when I’m home by myself.

Two salmon-colored wing chairs on an oriental rug. 
Two very tall, lanky men:  Michael Pollan  the host, Wendell Berry the guest.

Wendell Berry. 
A charming, lovely, humble man. 
In truth, so was Michael Pollan.

Pollan got to pick the questions. 
Are you hopeful? 
Have you bought a computer yet? 
What do you think of this administration’s farming policy?
Is there such a thing as an urban agrarian? 

Wendell Berry’s words were familiar.
The importance of local economies.
Pay attention to the land.
Land economy vs. Paper economy.
The value of work.

The undisputed highpoint was listening to
Wendell Berry read a poem he had written.
No title.
The only phrase I can recall is
“the validation of beauty.”

Warm, dulcet tones,
pleasant relaxed cadences.
A treat for the ears.

The evening ended too soon, with many topics untouched.
It still seems unreal to me.
I heard Wendell Berry speak.

It was great to share the evening with friends, old and new.
Dear Rachel, who in Berrian terminology is “part of the membership”
made this possible. When asked if we were related, my answer
was “Of course, just not by blood.”
Thank you my friend for a night I will remember.

And it was a special grace to share another evening of my life
with Diane of A Circle of Quiet.  Like I knew, my family loved you.

Why I love Wendell Berry’s fiction.

Everything I’ve written about Wendell

Random Reading Notes

Lots happening in the “Shire” and it. is. glorious.  Our community is celebrating weddings, music, friendship and growth.  I had not factored in how fatiguing glory can be, but surely there will be time to rest in the winter. 

One of my dear ones is getting married this Saturday.  Here is a Tolstoy quote that landed in her invitation:

The goal of our life should not be to find joy in marriage
but to bring more love and truth into the world.
We marry to assist each other in this task.
The most selfish and hateful life of all
is that to two beings who unite
in order to enjoy life.
The higher calling is that of the man
who has dedicated his life
to serving God and doing good
and who unites with a woman in order
to further that purpose.
~ Leo Tolstoy

The irony of that quote is that joy is the byproduct of a life of service. 

I have so many good books on my nightstand I can hardly bear going to sleep. 

You know, if you’ve read this blog for more than a week, how much I admire Wendell Berry.  I have two new book of essays and I love to read them wherever they fall open. 

Love is never abstract.
It does not adhere to the universe or the planet
or the nation or the institution or the profession,
but to the singular sparrows of the street,
the lilies of the field,
“the least of these my brethren.”
Love is not, by its own desire, heroic.
It is heroic only when compelled to be.
It exists by its willingness to be anonymous, humble, and unrewarded.
~ from “Word and Flesh”

Another author in my top five favorites is Neil Postman.  The Disappearance of Childhood is teeter-tottering in my pile of books.  Some quotes such as “Reading is, in a phrase, an antisocial act.” need a bit more background to be appreciated.  My antipathy to television needs no bolstering, but you can’t blame me for chortling a bit over this Reginald Damerall quote on how television erodes the dividing point between childhood and adulthood:

“No child or adult becomes better at watching television
by doing more of it.
What skills are required are so elemental
that we have yet to hear of a television viewing disability.”

I’m revisiting a book that had a powerful impact on me thirteen years ago: Motherless Daughters by Hope Edelman.  It is curious to re-read the book at a little more emotional distance.  I asked my husband to read the introduction and the first chapter in order to understand me better.  While he believes Wendell Berry is a better grief counselor, Curt appreciated this:

“How do I keep my mother’s death from being a lifelong lesson?
How do I keep it an isolated incident,
something so overarching, so devastating,
so pervasive in my life still?
How do I keep from being crippled by it?”
The answer, I believe–if there is such a thing
as a concise answer to such questions–
is to slowly learn to live with the loss and not under it,
to let it become a companion
rather than a guide.

Helene Hanff is kick-in-the-butt fun to read. 84, Charing Cross Road is high on my list of lifetime favorites.  She uses a strange and intriguing convention in Apple of My Eye, a book about New York City.  The entire book is a diary about a book she *plans* on writing.  Her friend  Patsy is forever commenting, “Put that in the book.”  Her humor is irrepressible, her writing wonderful.  She is one of those friends who is a walking encyclopedia, able to give you a two minute synopsis of the history of anything.  Thanks to Hanff, I’m am SO ready to visit the Big Apple.  The Cloisters, a collection of twelth and thirteenth century buildings, torn down and reconstructed in NYC, is now on my “must see” list.  I had never heard of it before this week.  Anybody been?

Then you look out,
and the splendor of the city
smites you all over again
with “astonishment of the heart,”
as it says in the Bible.

Finally, I am snuggling into Donald Hall’s memoir of his childhood summers with his grandparents in Maine, String Too Short to Be Saved.  I have to finish this so others (who are not yet aware that their earthly happiness depends upon reading this book) can begin.  When our kids were all together last weekend, we spent an evening reading sections of Aunt Doris’ memoirs aloud.  Whenever it sparked a memory, Grandpa filled in his own memories.  Stuff like his Grandpa who died in a field, sitting next to his tractor. My kids heard about the fine art of burning a page of the catalog and throwing it into the outhouse hole before you did your business so the seat was warm.  This book reminded me of that evening.

The idea of their [Donald’s grandparents] mortality
was never far from the surface of my day,
for a flush or a sigh or a hand pressed to the heart
brought death to me,
as if I had heard someone say the word.
It was a pack on my back,
and I would feel the sharp, physical pain
of their approach to dying,
something becoming nothing–or
was it my own approach to bereavement
that made my side ache?

What are you reading this summer?

A Friendship for Bedtime

My friend in Zimbabwe is reading Andy Catlett by Wendell Berry.

This morning’s inbox has these lines in response.

I started on Andy Catlett last night.
Oh, what a friendship for bed time.
Is that whole book set  on just one day?
Wendell Berry is truly gifted, to tell a story like that.
I left reading off just where grandma was making a raspberry pie.
I cannot wait for that pie to get out of the oven.

Consume, Produce, Go Out, Stay Home

TV and other media have learned to suggest with increasing subtlety and callousness–especially, and most wickedly, to children–that it is better to consume than to produce, to buy than to grow or make, to “go out” than to stay home.  If you have a TV, your children will be subjected almost from the cradle to an overwhelming insinuation that all worth experiencing is somewhere else and that all worth having must be bought. 

The purpose is blatantly to supplant the joy and beauty of health with cosmetics, clothes, cars, and ready-made desserts.  There is clearly too narrow a limit on how much money can be made from health, but the profitability of disease–especially disease of spirit or character–has so far, for profiteers, no visible limit.

~ Wendell Berry in the essay “Family Work” (1980), The Gift of Good Land

What do you think of this quote?