Special libraries in Portland – Maine Charitable Mechanics Association Library

High above the din of Congress Street in Portland, is a hidden treasure: the Maine Charitable Mechanic Association’s library, a private library which dates back to the 19th century. Although created as a library for apprentices in 1815, today it boasts an outstanding collection of fiction and non-fiction, as well as Maine books. Just heading up the stairs puts you into a different world. You enter into through double doors, into a large room with high ceilings, with portraits of “mechanics” lining two sides of the room, and exhibits in glass cases to show off the Association’s treasures. Mostly, though, you will see wonderful books right at your fingertips. Pat Larrabee, the librarian, says that the collection is a great resource for book clubs, who often read the classics. (In fact, the first Tuesday of each month a book club meets, enjoying tea and pastries, conversation and laughter). They don’t usually weed at the Maine Charitable Mechanic, so you will often find well loved copies of old books, that are usually tossed onto the booksale cart at most libraries if they haven’t been checked out in the past decade. The Library also has art exhibits, and is open, outside of their usual hours, on First Fridays.  Highlights for me of this collection are the travel videos and DVDS – many of which are products of the travelogue series that the Association sponsors. Books and videos aside, it’s worth a visit just to enjoy the ambience. (And one of the things I love most about visiting this library is the chocolates and cookies often lying around).

The Maine Charitable library, located at 519 Congress St., is open Tuesday through Thursday, 10-3, and First Fridays. Membership is $25 a year, but anyone is welcome to take a look around and enjoy the exhibits. For more information: www.mainecharitablemechanicassociation.com or call 207-773-8396


Little Gale Gumbo

Here is a plug for a friend of mine speaking at the Portland Public Library in a week. Erika grew up in Maine, and her mother is a dear friend of mine.

Wednesday, June 27 Erika Marks, author of Little Gale Gumbo
Erika Marks’ debut women’s fiction novel, Little Gale Gumbo, is about a woman and her daughters who leave a difficult past in New Orleans to start over in a small Maine town where they open a Creole restaurant.  Hoping for a fresh start, Camille and her daughters, Dahlia and Josie, leave their lives in New Orleans and move to Little Gale, Maine.  On the small island the locals are skeptical of the trio, but twenty-five years later Camille’s café becomes an island staple.  All seems right in their world, including Camille’s relationship with a local man, Ben.  But tragedy soon strikes and Ben is left fighting for his life.  Dahlia and Josie, along with Ben’s son, Matthew, must do everything they can to protect Ben and confront long-held secrets and unrequited loves that will test them as a family.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Erika Marks lives in Charlotte, North Carolina with her family.  Visit her online at www.erikamarks.wordpress.com and follow her on Twitter @erikamarksauthr.

Daphne Du Maurier’s Cornwall

A year ago we were in Cornwall, visiting Daphne Du Maurier sites. Led by our friend Jane, a Du Maurier scholar, we visited places that influenced Du Maurier’s novels. In Helford we searched for “Frenchman’s Creek,” a tale set in the time of Charles II and which includes love affairs, smuggling, and all sorts of swashbuckling adventures. In Fowey we walked on to a car ferry which took us across the River Fowey to Boddinick, where we could view from a distance (and later over a fence) Daphne’s home, “Ferryside,” where her son Kits now lives. This beautiful white house with blue shutters is perched on the edge of the water, and has the figurehead of the ship, Jane Slade, on one of the corners of the house. Jane Slade is the inspiration for the character of Janet Coombe of Du Maurier’s first novel, “The Loving Spirit.” Written in 1929, this novel tells the story of the four generations of the Coombe family of boatbuilders. We could see the boatyard that the Slades owned in the distance in Polruan.

Hiking through the nearby hills we came across a stone monument to Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, a writer friend of Daphne’s, for whom she carried on the writing of “Castle Dor,” in 1959, a decade after Quiller-Couch died. Along the way we veered off the hike to visit the church at Lanteglos, where Daphne married her husband, Tommy “Boy” Browning, in 1932. We wandered in the churchyard, in search of the gravestone of Jane Slade. In the 14th century stone church was just one small mention of the wedding of Daphne and Tommy, amidst its long and storied history.

One evening we dined at “Sam’s at the Beach” in Polkerris, in an old converted lifeboat station. On the wall we saw the name Rashleigh on the Fowey lifeboat sign – this name is prevalent in this area. Du Maurier based her book, “My Cousin Rachel,” on the Rashleigh name, and called her main character, “Philip Ashley.” Menabilly, the house that Daphne Du Maurier rented for a few years, is on the Rashleigh estate. This house was the setting for her most well known novel, “Rebecca” – renamed Manderley in the book, which is set in the early 20th century, as well as “The King’s General,” set during the time of the English Civil War (1642-1646)

I wish I had read these novels when I was a teenager, as they would have stirred my imagination and filled my world with romanticism. Alas, most of these I read 30 years later, but found them just as intriguing and entertaining. Especially when combined with physically visiting the places – what could be more delightful!

Captains Courageous! A good fishing tale

One of the things I like best about belonging to a book group is reading books that ordinarily I wouldn’t pluck off the shelf. My book group at the Maine Charitable Mechanics Association just gathered to discuss “Captains Courageous” by Rudyard Kipling. I wish I had read this years ago, when I was involved in the “Fish tales” exhibit at the Long Island Historical Society, as it gives great information about the late 19th century methods of fishing off the Grand Banks, in the form of a rollicking good tale. Who can ever forget Kipling’s description of Harvey, the main character, seeing all the fishing schooners lined up on the banks? This classic coming of age story, written in 1897, also includes what is called “a classic of railway literature” – a journey by rail from San Diego to Boston.

The Long Island Community Library has this wonderful tale, both in audio and print form. Be sure to check it out – it will impress you with its authentic voice and descriptions.