What do the wives and loves of Ernest Hemingway, Robert Louis Stevenson, Pablo Picasso, William Shakespeare, and Frank Lloyd Wright have in common? They all have recently appeared as the main characters in literary novels. Paula McLain’s “The Paris Wife” tells us the story of Ernest Hemingway’s first wife, Hadley. Nancy Horan’s “Under the wide and starry sky” portrays Fanny Stevenson, Robert Louis Stevenson’s wife. Another book by Horan, “Loving Frank” profiles Martha “Mamah” Borthwick’s relationship with Frank Lloyd Wright. “Madame Picasso” by Anne Girard is about Eva Gouel, Picasso’s companion and a great muse in his artwork. Andrea Chapin’s “The Tutor” tells the story of a muse of Shakespeare.
I am a big fan of literary sites – of course it helps that my office looks out onto the Longfellow Garden, behind the Wadsworth-Longfellow House, home of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, one of America’s most beloved poets. One of these days I want to travel the country, visiting literary homes and sites, reading and blogging about the literary works as I visit writer’s homes. But perhaps my first stop should be in Chicago at the American Writers Museum, which opens in 2017. The Wadsworth-Longfellow House and Garden is one of the affiliates.
The American Writers Museum Foundation is a 501 (c)(3) organization whose mission is to establish the first national museum in the United States dedicated to engaging the public in celebrating American writers and exploring their influence on our history, our identity, our culture and our daily lives.
Check it out! http://americanwritersmuseum.org/
It was a beautiful sunny Saturday driving thru Alabama, passing the cotton fields with their fluffy white flowers; much different from the snow I had left behind on Long Island, Maine. Our destination was Monroeville, Alabama, “The literary capital of Alabama” – proud to call itself that because of well-known , respected and all around good citizen Nelle Harper Lee, known for writing To Kill a Mockingbird and most recently Go Set a Watchman . She enjoyed her town, close friends family, community events, writing and golfing; what she didn’t like was all the Media, reporters, and questions that come from writing a best selling and controversial, to some, book. Her book was loosely based about Monroeville growing up with her brother and close friend Truman Capote and her visits to the Monroe County Court House to sit in the balcony at the courthouse and watch her father practice law. The themes of the book cover racial equality , rape, and childhood innocence.
Nelle Harper Lee died at the age of 89 on the Friday that we were in Alabama. We were saddened by the news. It was only on our drive that we heard on the radio that she was to be buried Saturday in a private funeral ceremony. We wondered if the museum would be opened but we continued on our journey. While parking the car at the Monroe County Courthouse and Museum I noticed black bows on the Courthouse doors, flowers on the steps, and a few people dressed in black and, wouldn’t you know it, a reporter. Whatever was said between those in black and the reporter, it was quick and off she went. Probably “No Comment. ” I think Harper Lee would approve. We were able to get into the museum and and courthouse and see 2 permanent exhibits: Harper Lee : In her Own Words, and Truman Capote : A Childhood in Monroeville. Harper Lee and Truman Capote lived next door to each other as children and shared a love for reading and writing stories about people in their town. Our tour continued with a visit to the Courtroom. It is the model for the courtroom scene from To Kill a Mockingbird – completely set up with Judge’s bench, attorney’s tables, chairs, jury box and the view from balcony which gives you a bird’s eye view of the court house. I felt that for a minute I was with Harper Lee watching court in session. Moments later I was on the floor of the courtroom walking around, and as I approached the witness stand and judges bench there were flowers, a picture of Harper Lee, and a frame with a quote from To Kill a Mockingbird where Atticus says to Jem “It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin. But you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what You rarely win- but sometimes you do.” MS. LEE WON!! “She died clean as the mountain air. ” At 1:30 that afternoon on a Saturday at the Methodist church in Monroeville, AL, Nelle Harper Lee was buried with family and a few friends present and a world full of people bidding her farewell.
I’ve always loved the idea of a pilgrimage. Whether it’s a spiritual one, or just revisiting old childhood haunts, a pilgrimage is a journey of the heart, mind, and body.
I’ve recently read two fictional pilgrimages. “The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry” by Rachel Joyce, tells the story of Harold, who takes an unintentional pilgrimage to see his old friend Queenie, walking from his small town in Cornwall 600 miles north to the Scottish border. In “The Little Paris Bookshop” by Nina George, Jean Perdu, with little forethought but immersed in his grief for his beloved Manon, pushes his floating “book apothecary” (bookshop) into the waters of the Seine heading to Provence. Both books revolve around men who have allowed themselves to not fully enjoy life because of tragedy, and each book finds the men rediscovering love, often which was right at home. In the meantime, they pick up characters along the way who help them to navigate the matters of the heart.
One of my favorite non-fiction books about pilgrimages is Rosemary Mahoney’s “The Singular Pilgrim: Travels on Sacred Ground.” In this beautifully written and lyrical book, Mahoney undertakes six pilgrimages: visiting an Anglican shrine to Saint Mary in Walsingham, England; walking the five-hundred-mile Camino de Santiago in Northern Spain; braving the icy bathwater at Lourdes; rowing alone across the Sea of Galilee to spend a night camped below the Golan Heights; viewing Varanasi, India’s holiest city, from a rubber raft on the Ganges; soldiering barefoot through the three-day penitential Catholic pilgrimage, known as Saint Patrick’s Purgatory, on Ireland’s Station Island. We can all live vicariously through her adventures, until the time comes for us to make any of these pilgrimages ourselves, if we so choose.
Finally, in this season of Lent, I’m enjoying “Pilgrim Road: A Benedictine Journey through Lent,” by Albert Holtz. Holtz, a Benedictine monk from Newark, New Jersey, was given a sabbatical year in which he traveled throughout fifteen countries, mostly in Europe. This book is based on the journal he kept during his travels. Holtz intertwines stories from his journeys with lessons for life.
Bunnies are a folkloric figure and symbol of Easter, as well as of spring. Here on Long Island bunnies abound on the Bunny Hop Road. This is our tribute to the Bunny Hop Road, through photographs of some of our favorite bunnies, along with bunnies from the collections of Ann Caliandro, Penny Murley, and Meredith Sweet, and bunnies featured in books from the Long Island Community Library.
We welcome your stories about the Bunny Hop Road!
Curated by Erin Love and Nancy Noble
Long Island Community Library, Winter-Spring 2016
Amidst all the wonderful books I read last year, here are some of my favorites (in somewhat chronological order)
By Susan Branch
Lent to me by my friend, coworker, and kindred spirit, Melissa, reading this book was a great way to start the New Year. This wonderfully illustrated and told story of Susan Branch’s love affair with not only the English countryside but also her husband who she met in her home town on Martha’s Vineyard.
The good braider : a novel
I read this young adult novel for the Maine Historical Society book group about “Home.” This book, written in free verse, tells the story of a young refugee woman from Sudan who is adjusting to life in Portland, Maine. A must read for anyone who lives or works in Portland, to appreciate what some of our fellow Portlanders have gone through to call our fair city home.
Under the wide and starry sky: a novel
This lyrical story, mentioned several times in previous blogs in 2015, about Robert Louis Stevenson and his wife Fanny educated me about this author of “Treasure Island” and “Kidnapped” in an entertaining way. “Louis” and Fanny travel the world in search of good health (and fodder for stories) for Louis before his early death at the age of 44 in the Samoan Islands.
To bless the space between us: a book of invocations and blessings
I really loved this man’s poetry – so much that I shared “For a new father” with a coworker who had his first child last spring, and “For a new position” with friends who started a new job. Other favorites are for a new home, for the traveler, for marriage, and for work.
Hawaii: a novel
This book, which I bought for myself on my birthday at an antique store, took up several months of my summer, in anticipation of a cruise to Hawaii that Michael and I took with my mom. While quite a tome it kept my interest and was great historical background for our trip. It was a wonderful book for reading on Long Island’s beaches, as well as on the cruise ship with my mother, while enjoying our afternoon tea.
Quiet: the power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking
Lent to me by a fellow introvert, this book was encouraging for those of us who fall into that spectrum.
For all of us, one today
I recommended this for my book group without reading any of Richard Blanco’s work, and promptly fell in love with his words – while he is a poet his prose was just as joyous. This book, about his journey as the inaugural poet for President Obama’s second term, inspired me to read some of his poetry books.
Broken for you
Another book group selection, I really loved this book. The book is full of quirky characters – my fellow book group participants thought it too unreal, but I said, “oh no, this is just like living on an island where quirky characters abound!” I loved the setting (Seattle), the characters, and the story. I was sad when it ended.
From holidays to holy days: a Benedictine walk through Advent
This was my Advent reading, which was a wonderful way to ease into the Christmas season. Written by a Benedictine monk in New Jersey and his observations of the street scenes in the light of the Benedictine philosophy and way of life, I was uplifted and inspired.
A week in winter: a novel
Finally, another wonderful author introduced to me by Melissa (see the first book in this list) – Marcia Willette, a British writer who sets many her novels in Cornwall. I loved this book with the setting and great ending (although a bittersweet love story amidst, which is where the title came from). Fortunately Marcia Willette has written many books so I’m eager to enjoy her books for years to come.
What were some of your favorite books in 2015?
Several of us islanders like to wait for the ferry in places other than the ferry terminal, including Portland’s numerous watering holes and cafes. But what if you have no reading materials while drinking your cappuccino? Thanks to the Coffeehouse Library Project, an outreach of the Portland Public Library, great books are at your fingertips, with no due dates or fees – just return the books when you are done! This is where I found the wonderful “Under the wild and starry sky” by Nancy Horan, about Fanny Stevenson, the wife of Robert Louis Stevenson. Brilliant!
So, next time you are killing time, waiting for the ferry, settle in to a great cup of coffee or tea … and a book!
For more information see:
We are pleased to announce a new exhibit in the Long Island Community Library’s small glass case about Santa’s Village in Jefferson, New Hampshire, a Christmas themed village. Even though we are enjoying a lovely and warm autumn, we all know that winter is around the corner, including a visit from Santa on December 24th. This exhibit will put you in the mood. It includes memorabilia (plates, ashtrays, spoons, salt and pepper shakers, etc.) and family photographs, which will enchant and delight.
The exhibit is curated by Sue Hemond, whose family owns the items in the exhibit. Sue’s grandparents owned a dairy farm in Jefferson, NH. When they sold a piece of their land in the 1950s to the friends who started Santa’s Village, the deal included a lifetime pass to the park for all the family. Thus began many summers of visits to Santa with cousins in tow, and a permanent love of anything to do with Christmas.
The exhibit is open during library hours
What do many foreign films have in common? Main characters bicycling along scenic country roads! In the Italian movie, “The Postman” (Il Postino), the postman delivers, on his bicycle, letters to Pablo Neruda. In “The Lunchbox,” the “dabbawala” delivers home cooked lunches to the city workers in Mumbai, India. In “Greenfingers,” the main character delivers flowers on his bicycle in a small English village.
Many foreign films take place in countries where the bicycle is used primarily as transportation, including Corsica, where in “Queen to Play,” Helene, a chambermaid, rides her bicycle to work along winding roads with the ocean as a backdrop. In “As it is in Heaven,” one of my favorite movies, Lena teaches Daniel to ride a bicycle, along Swedish country roads.
The Long Island Community Library has a nice selection of foreign films in the collection, including some of the ones mentioned above.
Remember the vinyl records of many years ago? A few of us still have them kicking around, unable to let go of them, for nostalgia’s sake. Amazingly, vinyl is making a comeback. A younger generation is discovering them, which goes to show one should never give up on old technologies.
The Long Island Community Library has a small exhibit in the glass case between the library and small meeting room which showcases a sampling of vinyl records owned and loved by Long Islanders, as well as examples of other types of technology that came about afterwards, some of which we’ll probably never see a resurgence of. There is a notebook that we would love to have you tell your stories of favorite records.
This exhibit is open during library hours.