Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Used Book Adventures

I happen to think I can learn about anything by finding the right book. Currently I am studying poetry. In the past, I collected and read work by poets Hansen (the new poet laureate of Nebraska), Hasselstrom, Kenyon, Kooser, Nye, Oliver, Saiser, and Stafford for the sheer beauty I find in their language. Now I am reading several other poets whose work speaks to me. I am reading more slowly and making a few notes about the ways they use word sounds and origins, rhythm, and space in their early and later work. Some of my poetry books are new and some are used. I love a new book as well as any book lover. I enjoy the smell and feel of new paper in a book. I love the heft and crispness of a new hard back book as well as the slight tension in the binding of a new trade paperback. I have attended readings to have new books signed by the author.

Still, I enjoy looking at the typeset, the little symbols between sections, book jackets, and cover art of used books. Finding another reader's note in the margin intrigues me. Very old books spin more than one tale. For example, my great grandfather, Harry Ulmer, lived in Omaha in the early 1900's. I know him through my grandmother's stories about him: the car he rented on Sunday afternoons for family outings and the latest contraptions, including a radio in a wooden cabinet, that he carted home. He also brought home books. I know this because I have inherited a few of them, including this small volume of "Snowbound," a poem by John Greenleaf Whittier. This little worn book was published in 1907. From Harry's inscription on the title page, I know that my great grandparents attended a party, perhaps playing cards or charades on June 23, 1909 and he won this little volume. I can see him tipping the straw hat he often wore and smiling broadly while telling his five children about the winter poem he won on a summer day.  

Early in my used book buying, I purchased a few lemons. Once, I received a book that reeked of cigarette smoke. Even propping it open on the deck in full sun of ninety degree days couldn't remove the odor. I notified the seller about the condition of the book and then put it in the garbage. While a notation or two in a book is interesting, a book heavily marked with fluorescent pink high-lighter is distracting so I learned how to read descriptions of used books. Shopping at A Novel Idea, one of my local used bookstores, is a great adventure and a way to view books before purchasing.

Recently, I ordered a couple of books by a lesser known author because I wanted to compare her poetry and prose. When the book arrived in June, I put it on the stack in my writing room. When I opened it this winter,  I discovered it was a signed copy. The paperback is worn but author's signature is very clear.

This month I ordered an anthology of poetry by May Sarton. I have read her journals but decided  to study her poetry. I wanted this anthology in order to make my own notes in the margins. When the book arrived, I noticed a newspaper clipping tucked into the book. The clipping, dated July 18, 1995, was the article published by The New York Times at her death. I think proprietors of used bookstores enjoy the idiosyncrasies of used books as much as I do.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Happy New Year

All morning a fine dry powder of January snow has blown across my window.  The forecast is for one to two inches but I wonder if more will accumulate. On the Great Plains, moisture is good and snow insulates the perennial flowers and bushes. Snow also cleans up the landscape and speaks to me of fresh starts. What could be better on a New Year's Day?

A few days ago, I sprinkled seed on the brick ledge outside the window in order to feed the birds and observe them closely. When I pulled up the blinds this morning two female cardinals and a junco huddled on the ledge pecking at the seed. Soon they were joined by three male cardinals flying back and forth from the nearby birch. Tiny pieces of ice encrusted the mask of an older male. One of the females had a piece of ice at the hinge of her beak. They all differed in coloring and build. The slightest and youngest male was the most aggressive, flying at any other bird who tried to join him on the ledge. The other two males commanded the best spaces on the ledge by turning their heads quickly back and forth. The female cardinals were aware but unconcerned with the presence of other birds. Now and then a pair of nervous chickadees flitted in for a quick treat before darting down into the bushes in front of the house. Snow highlighted the remarkable patterns of the sparrows' markings. One sported a bib of closely spaced charcoal dots while another had a white line around his neck, much like a turtleneck shirt keeping him warm. Little flakes of snow clung to the beaks of the juncos. Sparrows, juncos, and finches fed in groups gaining warmth from each other and reminding me that sharing a meal is an age-old way to connect with others.

My personal New Year's Day parade ended late morning leaving me time to consider my own New Year. Rather than make resolutions for 2014, I plan to "Begin as I mean to go on." (Quote from Charles H. Spurgeon, courtesy of Wikipedia) Yesterday I put away the Christmas decorations and straightened the living room and dining area so the house is in relatively good order. Spotless, I have decided, is not necessary. On the eve of the New Year,  Lance and I shared a meal with another couple. We came home early so I made a cup of tea and opened a new book. Lance wrapped up in the afghan I finished earlier in the week.  The afghan was a two winter project knit from a basket of leftover yarns which only goes to show I don't always need new skeins of yarn.
The cardigan from last Spring is still in progress but I need a small portable project. Today seems like a good day for mittens so after lunch I'm going to find a pattern for some yarn I bought at a sale last week. I will also record birthdays and anniversaries in my 2014 calendar.  Late this afternoon I am making a simple meal of tabbouleh salad and baked chicken because simple sounds good after the holidays. If the wind dies down, I might take a walk in the fresh snow and enjoy the quiet of this winter day. And so I begin 2014 as I mean to go on. I hope you are all warm and looking forward to the New Year.