Experimenting, Books and Bookstores, Hospitality, and Valentines

Experimenting, Books and Bookstores, Hospitality, and Valentines.jpg

New Format – An Experiment

In my list of New Year’s intentions, not to be confused with resolutions, I wrote “experiment more.” This new post format is an experiment. Over the years, for a multitude of reasons this blog has gone for long periods without new posts. One of the reasons as of late is that as the number of subscribers has grown, I’ve begun to (perhaps) overscrutinize the relative merit each small post has in a subscriber’s inbox. Does subscriber #XYZ really want to receive a single small paragraph or two in his or her inbox multiple times a week? Wondering about the answer to this question, the pressure to come up with freestanding small posts worth the space in a subscriber’s inbox has had a stifling effect on creative juices. My experiment is to write longer posts of a more casual nature, covering multiple topics, and aiming for increased regularity–once weekly (sure, I’ll try). If you’re a regular reader or a first-time or occasional visitor, I’d love to hear via email or comment whether or not you think this experiment is a good thing.


Brave New Booksellers

A couple months ago I posted about authors who have opened bookstores, including Ann Patchett and Louise Erdrich, among others. Well just this week, thanks to LitSeen, I learned about a new bookstore that has been opened in my city by an ordinary married couple. Brave souls, they are. Angela and Jamie Schwesnedl opened Moon Palace Books last October in the Longfellow neighborhood of Minneapolis. According to this article, they are excited and optimistic about the prospects of a bookstore, despite all the handwringing about the future of the printed book.

It’s got to help that they’ve opened their doors in one of the country’s most literary cities. For years Minneapolis and Seattle occupied the #1 and #2 slots, flip-flopping from year to year, in the list of the most literary US cities. The last three years, however, Washington DC moved into the #1 position. At first I was troubled by our slip to #3 (2012 and 2013) but then comforted myself with the fact that it can only be a good thing if our nation’s capitol city increases in the degree to which its citizens read. A positive development with this year’s list is that St. Paul, Minneapolis’s sister city, for the first time rose into the top ten, underscoring what a literary powerhouse this area is. Back to Moon Palace Books, I’m sorry I didn’t hear about it until now but will soon check it out.


Reading Stack: Dillard, Kephart

The Maytrees.jpg

The Maytrees, a novel, Annie Dillard’s latest book, has been on my reading list since it came out in 2007, but I finally read it only this month. I started it without knowing what to expect, other than something good--it is, afterall, written by Dillard. But I knew nothing about the plot other than what you can read on the book back and inside flap. Lou Bigelow and Toby Maytree meet, court, and get married in Provincetown, Cape Cod. Something happens with their friend Dreary. Halfway through the book, however, nothing much had happened yet and I was tempted to move on. According to current publishing expectations, which assumes little about a reader's perserverance, perhaps I should have moved on after the first chapter failed to grip me, but I think tenaciousness and hopefulness are good qualities in a reader so I kept going. Plus, Dillard doesn’t usually disappoint. And she didn’t. The story went in a direction I didn’t expect and by the time it looped around again and headed to the final page it had become a study in forgiveness, humility, and love far beyond the limitations of eros, Valentine’s day love. Could hurt and damaged people really live the picture she paints, this side of heaven? I want to think yes.

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Another book I’ve just finished is Still Love in Strange Places by Beth Kephart, a writer of all genres--poetry, fiction, and nonfiction. Still Love is a memoir and one of her early books (she’s written many!). Although I’ve read Kephart’s blog for awhile, this is the first time I’ve read one of her memoirs. (A couple years ago I read her Zenobia: The Curious Book of Business.) While she calls the book a memoir, it’s more a story about her husband, about El Salvador, her husband’s home. And in the background, while writing about coffee ranches, harvest feasts, earthquakes, and corruption, she is making peace with her foreign status within her marriage. It is a large and generous book, beautifully written, which is exactly how I would describe her blog. 

“Nora [her mother-in-law] even knows who steals which oranges from whose trees, and she pretends she doesn’t know these things when the campesinos invite her to their shacks. Come here, an old woman beckons to us as we walk the slope at dawn. Sit here, she says, as we make our way through the opened gate and find the kitchen, which is really just a fire and a blackened pot, no roof overhead. One table. Two chairs. Nora sits down. The ancient woman with the white roped hair extends her family’s only orange. They need to feel that I’ve been a guest in their house, Nora says to me in English. They need to have something to give.

I have an orange for you, I saved it for you. This is my gift. Please. Allow me to give it. The woman splits the thing right apart with her hands. Nora lets the pulp dry, a testament, on her chin. Two little girls in tattered dresses point and giggle. The ancient, aproned woman waves her hands, exuberant. Chickens are everywhere, their beaks hard as dried corn, and an altar, made of colored foil, streaming in the sun. This is the house of hospitality.”


Vermeer’s Christ in the House of Mary and Martha

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Along the theme of hospitality, last night a friend showed me a print of one of her favorite paintings, Vermeer’s Christ in the House of Mary and Martha. We had just read together out loud the story from Luke 10 in a group after the Ash Wednesday service. My reaction to the story of Mary and Martha has always been complicated. Martha is busy getting dinner ready for all the guests. Mary, her sister, is sitting with the men listening to Jesus teach. Martha speaks up and asks Jesus to get Mary to help her. Jesus declines saying Mary has found the better way. It’s easy to picture myself as Martha, too busy and in need of help; it’s easy to picture myself as Mary, wanting to be still, to focus, to be taught and nurtured. You too? This painting offers a way into the story without stumbling over its familiar words. I appreciate my friend showing it and want to sit with it awhile. I like the hospitality it shows to both Martha and Mary.


In Honor of Valentine's Day

Here's a link to the top 25 films on marriage from Image Journal's Art & Faith Forum. I've seen very few of these but have watched other films recommended by this forum and not been disappointed.

As I've been writing this at a coffee shop, a boy and girl, 14-ish, have been sitting at a table next to me, their conversation becoming louder and more animated, their laughter more passionate. At one point, the girl called home (presumably) and asked to be able to stay just a half hour more. "We're just talking," she said. I think they're falling in love.


Have a good weekend, everyone. Please, let me know what you think of this new format. I'm interested in your thoughts.