Thursday, July 29, 2010

What Are You Reading?

I am -- briefly -- holding off finishing the book I brought with me on this vacation week, fifty pages from the end.

I just turned my gaze away from the open windows behind the couch where I have settled to read off and on this day, resting the open book on the back cushions, finding myself again and again drawn to reflect on this familiar activity.

It is a book that was recommended by a friend who claimed to see me in one of the main characters. I started it in the evenings last week as these vacation days loomed. I did not really expect to be surprised by anything I read in its four-hundred pages. It read like the page-turner that people claim to love to bring to the beach. (I do not love to read on the beach.)

A key premise of the novel is that people can mistakenly think they know what is happening around them and who the people are with whom they deal daily.

In my reading on this holiday, I too began by thinking I knew what I was doing and why I was doing it. Isn't this one of the most predictably enjoyable things I have done on summer vacations through the years?

Reading as a child and reading as an adult, however, I think I have actually expected more than simple enjoyment. Other things happen or don't happen while you read. People often don't bother you if you're reading. People can wonder less why you're not joining them in activities that they themselves enjoy. Some people don't think that a reader needs anything other than space and time alone and a little bit of quiet.

On the other hand, comments you hear suggest that some people don't think anything particularly important is happening while you read. They don't realize that you may be traveling somewhere and trying on worlds and maybe meeting your habitual ideas and finding them simplistic or one-sided.

But you know that a communication is underway. You know that with certain books, certain authors, places inside you are getting attention that they may not have gotten in years.

Fortunate are those readers who can remember as children having an adult sit next to them and ask, "What are you reading?" At its most powerful, the question was never a ploy to get you to substitute talking for your reading. It was rather an acknowledgement that the world you had entered as a reader was worth hearing about.

It was an acknowledgement that you were worth hearing about.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Midway through a Summer Lunch

I met my oldest brother and his wife for lunch this afternoon.

Vacation has officially begun!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

On a Saturday Walk in an Old Cemetery

Why is someone else not here? How do I get to be the only one to enjoy this right now?

I shake my head at times, incredulous at my good fortune. Without needing to make way for others or wait my turn, I step up to a view that reveals depth upon depth of morning green. Early sunlight conspires with the highest branches of trees and outlines leaves that no ladder could reach.

I do nothing to make this moment possible except show up, but a whole world seems ready to address a message to the fortunate person who does.

Who wouldn’t listen to a message when it comes with such generosity?

Who wouldn’t send a message in reply, speak words into the morning air and the silence and the welcoming heights above which these leaves lift their green?

Who wouldn’t vow to be back in the same place at the earliest opportunity to speak again?

Friday, July 16, 2010

Lake Cabin

There is the smell of pine needles about the pictures of this cabin on a lake in New Hampshire.

There is the smell of summer sun on the wooden boards that make up the deck.

It takes imagination to understand a need for that desk lamp visible through the windows.

It is the imagination that any writer loves to use.

Thank you to a reader of Writing Cabin for these photos.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Summer Blue

I enjoyed the prospect of reading one of the first ten Penguin paperbacks from their inaugural year 1935. I had never heard of Poet's Pub nor was the author's name familiar to me -- Eric Linklater. I followed the links on, however, and placed my order for a used copy of the 1929 novel with a bookseller in Guelph, Ontario. IMDb revealed the existence of a 1949 black-and-white British film based on the novel, but I could find no leads to copies of it available for purchase or rental.

Eighty pages into Poet's Pub, I confess that I am enjoying myself enormously even in these hot New England days.

One passage early on provides a taste of the Twenties and near-Gatsby excess. Proud of a blue cocktail he has created, a bartender named Holly prepares a sample lot for guests of the inn where he works:

'Anything that a lady like Miss Benbow suggests is all right, sir,' said Holly politely; and deftly poured measures of this and measures of that, crystal clear, faintly yellow and richer orange, a glass delicately poised with the rising meniscus unbroken, a drop, two drops of wormwood, a fluid ounce of sweetness and an ounce of twice-distilled strength...gravely, intent on his task as an alchemist seeking the elixir, the aurum potabile, Holly poured his chosen liquors into a long silver shaker, added broken fragments of ice, screwed down the top, and, like a man with the palsy, shook. His hands were clenched on either butt, his muscles were taut, his face was set like a mask. And all this time his audience watched him silently as if a conjurer were at work, and where paper flags had gone in the doves of peace might emerge. Then the rapid shaking changed to a long swinging movement like an old-fashioned concertina-player swinging his instrument to spread his melody wider, more powerfully. And at last he was done. He set six glasses on the bar and poured into each a liquid, at first cloudy-blue like the sky at morning, that slowly cleared to a hue ineffable and serene.

The writing is rich fare, perfectly overdone, excessive and amusing.

May I join in the fun and provide hints of the blues with which I am entertained these warm summer days, both in the kitchen at home...

...and above a bookcase in my office at work?

I am just trying to stay cool. These serene hues help.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Recipe for a New England Fourth of July Cake

Three Weeks Before
1. Crack eggs

Visit a nineteenth-century home in Amherst, Massachusetts. Walk from room to room where a poet spent her days. Listen to thunder in the stillness between rooms. Look through bedroom windows as grey morning skies grow darker. Think back forty years to your first purchase of a volume of the poet's puzzling verses. Take a picture of the house where words you grew up loving were first committed to paper and stored in a dresser's bottom drawer.

One Week Before
2. Sift flour

Visit an eighteenth-century manse in Concord, Massachusetts. Wait outside in the shade for the tour to begin. Ask a friend what he recalls from visiting this house with his father and mother thirty years ago. Watch your head as you enter rooms. Hear the ticking of a clock from days when a favorite author wrote here. Later in the nearby cemetery hear your friend call him "Nate."

Four Days Before
3. Stir gently

Visit a lighthouse in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, that you last saw two years ago. Leave the tour bus and walk to the place where you had taken your earlier photographs of it. Think about your life.