This is where we left things last week, when I was half-way to bringing this castle (above) into the real world:

This is where things get weird. Namely, what to do about the back-end of the structure:

You can tell that the person who drew this original illustration of a castle was only thinking in 2-D, that is, thinking only about jamming in a collection of towers without considering whether or not the castle was actually feasible.

The way I figured it, the only way to get all these towers together in a structure was to build them around a very peculiarly-shaped platform:

Trial and error, cutting and gluing and trimming, was the only way to come up with a template for this peculiarly-shaped platform. (Thank you, Dear Reader Sharon, for telling me about templates!) And this is how I turned that flat pattern into a 3-D platform:

I know. I’m a genius. I have all kinds of skills that are not worth a dime in the real world.

While this area is still exposed — that is, before I close it up by inserting the final two towers — I have to make sure it is safe for all the imaginary people who inhabit this castle. It needs a fence of some sort to go around it:

If you remember the design of this castle. . .  (here’s a reminder):
. . . the tall round tower in the back needs a topper, a cone-shaped topper. These are rather easy to make, if you get the size right. The trick is to draw a big enough circle. Here’s the pattern:

Cut along the blue lines.

For this topper, I used a jar as my tracing guide:

Wrap the circle into a cone, like this:

Voila: Topper, installed:

Oh crap. I just remembered that I didn’t take a photo of how I installed that second round tower next to the first round tower. All I did was glue it on top of the platform, which was about the easiest thing about this entire castle.

Wait. I changed my mind about this topper. I decided that this tower needed a snazzier topper, so I found an illustration that had a big blue sky and I made a new topper.  I also cut out a doorway from another illustration and glued it onto the topper so two little ladies could exit to enjoy the view:

I made a half-tower for the side bit (because it’s there in my original tower illustration inspiration) and that’s where I put the King and his valet:

The finished castle looks like this:

The fun part was finding the doo-dads to make windows and embellishments.

Which, except for its being well-made, is not a success. The original castle is tall and skinny and smooshed together. It had a quirkiness that appealed to me.  My castle is not smooshed together. The proportions are off. My goal for the next castle is to make it look more like the inspiration.

In the future, I am going to have to — heart be still — take measurements.

I decided that, since the castle was not a success, I had to make the display a lot more interesting. So now it looks like this:

Any old random book that has a loose binding will open nice and flat. . . or as flat as a book can get. You still have to make adjustments. This is the castle’s front door BEFORE:

And this is the castle’s front door AFTER:

I had wanted to make the castle look as if it were erupting from the innards of this book but that takes  — dare I say it?? — advance planning. I will devise that for my next project, the one were I also measure out the proportions ahead of time.

I did manage to drop the trees and the flower pot into the text by using a scalpel (available in packs of 20 from amazon.com and which I happen to have already because who doesn’t have scalpels laying around the house?) to cut into several layers of pages:

I have one more tid-bit of info about castle-making, if you can stand it, but first, let’s go get a cup of tea so we can take a break from Castles and Such.

And by  “Castles and Such”, you know I mean “The sense of failure that lurks behind every creative project which is why I will probably have to have another go at making this castle the right way “, and by “tea”, you know I mean “wine”.

I was in the library two days ago and I found this object at the water cooler:
Oops. I am holding it upside-down. THIS is how it should be seen:

Castle tower topper, anyone?

So of course I had to find out what made this perfect castle tower topper tick, so I un-wrapped it:

Now I have a template for all future castle tower toppers. Yay me.

I like the heat of Summer as much as the next person, but this weekend is going to be rainy and finally cool here on the north shore of Long Island. . . again, Yay me! You know where I’ll be: knee deep in paper and glue re-making the tall, skinny, smooshy castle. Or drinking wine. One or the other. I’ll let you know when we meet back here next Friday.

Have a great weekend, everyone.

XXOO

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As soon as I found this illustration of a castle (that’s my trusty tea bag along side it, for scale) I knew immediately that I wanted to build it as a tutorial. It’s from a book that has been languishing in our used book store for months and months, ever since I started to co-manage the shop in February:

As you can see, the illustrations for this book border on being creepy which is why, I think , nobody has bought it even though it’s only a dollar. I took it home last Friday, but I just couldn’t cut it up. So, instead, I’m using a book that is vey cut-up-able, one of ten that I bought accidentally on eBay:

The best thing I can say about these old Horizon magazines-in-book-form is that they are cheap, their pages are sturdy, and they are usually so boring that you don’t mind cutting them to bits.

I am also going to use pages from a previous book that I have vandalized:

And I’m using pages from that old German almanac that I used for my Rapunzel tower (see last week’s blog):

That old german almanac has lots of interesting doo-dads that I am dying to use as decorations on future castles:

Getting back to this week’s inspiration, I made a few thumbnail sketches to figure out how to interpret this flat illustration into a 3-D castle:

I am going to make all the elements — the various towers — as stand-alone structures, and link them up as I go along. But first, I have to re-inforce the more fragile pages from the old books. I like the way they have aged, but I need to glue them onto regular old typing (bond) paper in order to use them for construction:

Just a note on how I measure stuff: I don’t think in inches, or fractions of inches. For instance, as shown below, when I have to measure a legnth, I put my see-through 6-inch ruler down, and tick off the increments as “Start at 4 and go to one before the 8”. I build, mostly, by eye, and use the ruler to draw straight edges and to keep measurement uniform…I do not think in eights-of-inches.

I don’t usually have to draw out my plans, but for this tutorial I drew the plan for the first tower that I am going to build so I can show you how I think:

I put very light pencil lines on the re-inforced page and I use an exact knife to cut it out:

And I end up with this:

Which I can tell, right away, is the wrong proportion for the castle I want to build. You read that right: from the get-go, I have to rescue this thing. So I add height to it this way:

Yeah. This is more like the tall, skinny rectangular tower that I want:

For the crenellated top of this tower I have to make a tray, so this is how I will mark it out:

The pink lines indicate where I have to make a little cut so that when I fold it, it will have tabs:

I will glue the tabs:

Crap. I dont have a photo of the tray  — but here it is, in a crap photo, poised on top of my “tower”:

To this tray, I will add the crenellations (using the margins of the sturdy Horizon magazine pages), measured and marked through trial-and-error because, at this point in my castle-making carer, I don’t know how to anticipate the correct intervals between the “downs” and “ups” of crenellation:

I slather the glue onto the upright edges of my little tray and wrap the crenellated strip of paper all around it:

There’s the finished tray, and next to it are small flaps of paper that I have glued for a nefarious purpose:

I glue these into the interior of my rectangular tower in order to give the tray, which will sit atop it, some support:

I hope you can see that I have put the tower upside down on top of the tray:

I am using my long, needle-nosed tweezers to tap down the glue flaps so that they touch the tray:

I am sure that the previous few photographs were not in the least helpful, but in the end, this is how the tower comes together as a nice, stable, heavily-glued structure:

All it needs (according to the illustration) is a roof. I hope you can see the pencil lines that I made here (in the raking light):

Those lines help me make two triangles, comme ca:

Glue these triangles in place:

I took over 100 photos while I was building this castle. I could not possible bore you with every detail of the craft (ha! I said craft!) so I had to edit, but the kind of thing that I edited out is the part where the paper pieces need a little weight to get them to glue together properly. My staple-remover thingy comes in handy as a weight to set on these delicate objects while the glue dries:

Voila: Here is my first completed element of this castle, the rectangular tower:

By my count, I will need three rectangular towers and three round towers for this castle, so let’s now do a round tower!

Round towers are much more fun and harrowing to make. In preparation, I like to roll my re-inforced paper a bit, to get it in the mood to become a tube:

I would be nothing without good old Elmer’s glue:

I order to make certain that your tower is rolled properly you have to make the ends meet exactly, or else the tower will not stand up straight:

As this is the fourth castle that I have built, I have learned that using my circle-drawing tool to size the road towers is extremely helpful (for reasons that will become apparent very shortly). So, while the glue is still wet and fungible, I “size” my tower by pushing it through one of the apertures:

I can hardly believe I am saying this, but the good thing about knowing the size of your round tower (by making fit in the circle-drawing tool — what is this thing called, any way?? — is that you also know the diameter of your tower!

This is extremely exciting because, for the first and only time in my 62 years of life, I need to know the diameter as indicated on this circle-drawing tool of a circle!! Because now I can figure out the circumference of my round tower!!

I need to know the circumference of this tower because that is how I will make the crenellations!! As before, I draw a strip of “ups” and “downs”, but I cut notches into the bottom part of it, as shown here:

Putting crenellations on a round tower tray (which I cut out to be larger than the tower itself) is like, I hope there are sewers reading this, setting a sleeve into a shirt or dress:

Ta-Da!

The bottom of the round tower tray looks like this:

How cool is that?

Ok. Truth to tell, now that I’m a few (three? four? five? ) hours into this project, is when I start to question if this is the best way a person my age should be spending the precious minutes of her life. Making paper castles? Shouldn’t I be composing sonnets, or learning sign language, or day drinking, or something? Instead of cutting out itty bitty bits of castellations? Is this really how I want to spend my ever-dwindling days on Earth?

Hell, yeah!

Dear Readers, I know that it feels as if we are making this castle in real time, but let me assure you that castle-making is a much, much  s-l-o-w-e-r process than shown and we have oh, so much more to do on this project.

Now I know, Dear Readers, that you are not me; you do not have the type of idiocy that makes you spend a thousand minutes making a paper castle FOR NO GOOD REASON other than it fun and rather soothing, in these times of peril, to make your own 3-D puzzles while listening to NPR.

So let’s take a break and consider the heartening news this week that makes me think, and hope, that the end of right-wing putrescence in America is nigh. Paul Manafort is going down — it looks to me that the gummint has an open-and-shut case of tax fraud and money-laundering against him. Everyone says that this is Robert Mueller’s  opening shot at Trump; if not to show cause for swift impeachment, then to expose the fake, filthy, and flimsy pretexts of Trump’s businesses. I would rather see Trump forever and truly bankrupt for now and all history than see him hounded out of office (reason: President Pence).

SDNY: Southern District of New York.

And how about Rudy Giuliani running around laying the ground for the inevitable by spreading the word that “collusion is not a crime”?

And then there’s the NRA cozying up to a known Russian spy, and the Kock Brothers funding a multi-million dollar campaign against Trump, and the two civil trials against Alex Jones (the conspiracy theorist who claims that the school shooting at Sandy Hook, CT was a government fake and that Hillary was running a child sex ring out of a pizza joint in DC, etc)…

Friends, the arc of history towards truth and justice is drawing ever tighter, into a noose, against the throat of evil. I hope you have your victory party champagne chilling.

Back to castle building.

Now that we know how to make our two main elements (rectangular tower and round tower) of this, and every other, castle, I should say that the next bit gets a little wired. But first, let’s complete our facade by constructing this:

See? I smarted-up and cut out my box tower to include flaps that I can glue down to support whatever roof or castellations I might need:

I use these itty bitty bits as braces to secure the castellations on either side:

Putting the braces in place with tweezers:

Facade almost complete:

For the roof here, I found this illustration of Queen Elizabeth and am using the pattern of her skirt for roof tiles:

DONE (so far):

This photo shows that I’ve already jumped ahead and put in that tall rectangular tower that backs up the facade (see reference illustration below).

The complete front of this castle won’t be complete until I figure out how to make a short tower that has a wrap-around porch that connects the front of the castle to the back. I’ll show you the original illustration again so you can see it:

It was difficult to envision this, since I’ve ever made one before, so I did indeed draw up a plan:

And this is how you do it:

To make this nifty feature look nice and clean, and to give it a bit more stability, I made a little strip that I glued all along the inside castellation:

And here is where things get weird. This round tower in the very back must fit into some kind of platform structure that will kit into the nooks and crannies of back end of the facade…

And here is where I will leave you for this week because this has been a very looooong post and I know some of you Dear Readers who are making this castle along with me are dying to sweep up all the bits that have scattered themselves all over the floor…

…and it’s FRIDAY and we deserve a big stinking glass of ice cold Chablis for having lived through another week of the Trump Atrocity, or maybe just for making it through another week.

We will finish this castle next Friday, Dear Readers, when we are one week closer to the end of our national nightmare.

Have a great weekend, everyone. May all your thousands of minutes be spent in joyful contemplation of towers and turrets and castle of your dreams.

XXOO

 

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So I’m looking through an old YA novel, searching for inspiration for my second Book Art project, and I came across this:

The illustration, I mean. Not the tea bag. The tea bag is the same one I’ve been using for about ten years to show with my various Triscuits and paintings and things, to indicate scale. I hope it’s not too scuzzy, after ten years. At least it’s never been used…The New York Times just did a story about an artist, Laure Provost, whose prized possession is a 15-year old tea bag once used by her grandfather:

So. Tea bags. Where was I?

Oh, right. Book Art.

The used book store that I volunteer/co-manage for our local library has four (one hardback, three paper) copies of this book:

I do not remember this book, Half Magic, from my childhood, although it was a best seller when it was first published in 1954 and appears to still be in print. The book is nicely illustrated and the pages were kind of soft but substantial and there was that one castle pictured in it (see above), so I knew I could make something out of it:

In answer to Dear Reader Megan’s question last week: For my first castle (see: last week’s post)  I did not use any other material except the old, brittle pages from my source, a book from 1920 (don’t worry, you can buy your own copy on eBay for $9.99…I wouldn’t cut up a precious book!) . That paper was very tricky, being so dry and  flimsy, but I learn from my mistakes so  for this castle I did build up the main castle parts with some sturdy backings, a very inexpensive Canson “Biggie Jr.”  90-lb paper for kids crafts. For the crenelations and the flag pole I glued several pages together so they would be stiff enough to not flap in the wind.

Crenelations:

I give Dear Reader Megan this word in swaps with the most excellent word she left in her Comment last week — punnet. I never heard or saw that word before and now it’s one of my favorites. Thank you, Megan!

My first two castles were made like stage props — hollow, and want to be viewed only from the front. Here’s the back of my Half Magic castle:

But after making two stage prop castles, I think I’m ready to build something totally 3-D. And here’s the book that became my inspiration for my third castle, a book that has been ignored in our used book store for at least three months:

It’s in German and appears to be some kind of Year Book and yes, it’s from 1905.

It had great end papers . . .

I already ripped out the loose end paper, but it had the same cool blue design on it.

. . . and it also had fine (but strange) illustrations:

So, I thought about Germans, and Nazis, and lederhosen, but I wanted to think nice thoughts about Germans so I thought about the Brothers Grimm, and then I thought, Aha! 

Rapunzel.

Working on this free-standing tower gave me lots of time to think about Rapunzel, so that’s why  my Rapunzel isn’t letting down her hair because my Rapunzel enjoys her life in her tower just fine, thank you very much, with her books and her paints and her tea cups and her cats:

This little side-tower was fun to do:

It took me a lot of trial and error to figure out how to cut those eaves so the two roofs could fit together, but it was awfully relaxing to do so. The harder it gets to put these castles together, the more I like it; it requires the same concentration as watercolor or embroidery, but is much more playful. It’s castles!

I’ll be back at the book store today, going through some children’s books, looking for more inspiration, and maybe I’ll show you the step-by-step next time, if you Dear Readers think that would be of interest. I know you want to know how to make those neat pointy roofs.

Last week Dear Reader Birdie asked whether we at the used book store sold out books on line. Let me give a long answer:

This week we got a big box, full of donated books — all the books we sell at the used book store are donated to us — that contained a lot of Book of the Month and Reader’s Digest books from the 1960s and ’70s. The donor dropped the box off, and we didn’t get a name or any contact information. . . most people are glad to get rid of books that they feel too guilt to throw away, so they tend to dash off once they have unloaded the responsibility on us.

Most of the books in this donation were not suitable for us to sell, as they were too worn out or were about the last 100 days of WWII. There were a few woodworking books in there, too; it seemed to me that the books came from the library of a guy who had served in Europe in the war and come home to a lifelong hobby of making bird houses and decoy ducks.

Then, in the very bottom of the box, I found gold. I found this:

This is a pristine first edition (1971) of Sylvia Plath’s only novel, published by Harper & Row. The cover is immaculate and it seems to me that the book has never been read, not surprising when you consider the company it’s been keeping for the last 47 years.

It has a minor condition issue in that the binding is very slightly bowed:

This is the first valuable book that we’ve had donated to us, so this is the first time that I’ve considered putting one of our books on line.

But I’m giving all you Dear Readers first crack. If you or anyone you know would like to own this amazing first edition (fifth printing), let me know. All sales benefit the William Cullen Bryant Library in Roslyn, NY.

The other most exciting thing that’s happened in the neighborhood recently is the sighting of a pair of male and female coyotes living in the woods behind the high school. It is assumed that they are a breeding pair, and that they have a den. Coyote babies! How cute!

But that means that there are some hungry coyotes prowling our sleepy little h hamlet here on the north shore of Long Island, and all residents are advised to keep small dogs and cats indoors (cats are coyotes’ favorite food). Scary!

All my cats are on ultra-high alert:

P.S. Sorry, but the Sylvia Plath book is already sold. There are still Sylvia Plath fans out there!

Have a great weekend, Dear Ones. May all your castles have a room, just for you, with a view.

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I’m trying to find a way to sell more used books. While we are making more money than we made last year at the used book store that I co-manage to benefit our local library (Bryant Library in Roslyn, Long Island, New York), I want to “grow” the business because I’ve promised myself a case of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc the first time we hit the outrageous monthly goal of $500.00. And I really like New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and I like to drink it knowing that it’s for a good cause.

So I’ve started to make structures out of the books that no one wants. The castle (above) is my first attempt to make something enticing.

There’s an empty room at our library, a “Maker Space” for “teens”, that I’d like to fill with” teens” making Book Art. And I want these up-to-now-hypothetical “teens” to use our used book store as their art supply source.

BTW, when I was in that age bracket, I did not like being called a “teen”. I did not have a “teen” life, as was shown me by TV and LIFE magazine, and I hated every “teen” who did.

This was soooooo not me.

I am currently almost finished with my second structure, another castle made out of the classic illustrated YA novel, Half Magic.

It might surprise you that making Book Art is not nearly the dirty work that running a used book store is. Lately we have been receiving really filth donations — literally filthy. We get books that seem to have been stored in oily  garages for decades, we get books that have have been absorbing years and years of cigarette smoke, we get books that come from damp basements, we get books that have been pried out of dusty bookcases from the 1960s (we can tell because they are all Book of the Month Club sections, none more recent than 1972), we get books that have been colonized by spiders. Cobwebs are the worst.

This week we got a very nice donation from an SUV that had been caught in a sand storm. I unpacked the cartons in the hall way of our historic house, and had to wipe down every book cover to remove a fine layer of grit:

After wiping them down with a damp paper towel, every book had to dry off. And although this was a rather good donation, it also contained a book about how to manage your bowl disease. Really? You think a used book store would want that??

My favorite book of the week, however, is this one:

It was printed in 1962 and, I suppose, acquired that same year by Mill Lane Junior High School in Farmingdale, Long Island, New York. But as you can see, this book was never checked out, not once, in its lifetime:

For 56 years, this book has waited for someone to care. But alas, its Due Date was never stamped.

That’s an ugly cover, but the title is killer, if you ask me. Uses of Infinity: I can picture a great fantasy novel with that title, or a moving memoir of loss and recovery.

Hoping to find something the lived up to its first impressions, I peered into its pristine pages:

Without actually reading the book, which I don’t have the energy or the smarts to do, I have surmised that Infinity is something that you can graph, which means that Infinity is something that you can quantify, or present in an arcane visual language. Who knew?

Some of the sub-heading are as good as poetry:

Wait. This book was purchased for junior high school kids?? No wonder it was never checked out.

THIS BOOK MUST BE MINE.

At first, I wanted to bring it home so I could cut it up and make mysteriously inspiriting collages out of it, but more and more I have the feeling that this book is an artifact of the colossal curiosity of its author, Leo Zipkin, and all kindred souls who find beauty and meaning in higher mathematics. Now I don’t have the heart to destroy it.

One of our volunteer book sellers was working last Friday and she left a note that one of the library workers had come into the book store and taken 8 novels “on loan”. She said that she wanted to read the cover copy to a house-bound friend, get her selection, and return the books she didn’t want.

All our novels, hard cover and paperback, cost 50 cents. 50 CENTS.

I put my foot down and wrote down our store policy for all future cases of such entitlement and cheapskatedness. We do not  “loan” books. WE ARE NOT A LIBRARY.

People are amazing, are they not?

Then again, we’re talking about people, and there are still people who love Donald Trump, despite the clear Helsinki-adjacent evidence that he and the Republican party are determined to destroy our democracy through alignment with Russia.

I get stomach cramps just thinking about it. The times are desperate, Dear Readers, and it makes me crazy. So I bring you stories of paper castles and equations for infinity because we all need to think about something else, now and then, other than the pure venality of the right wing, or we will go insane.

I also have kitty cats:

And I forgot to tell you that when I was in Washington D.C., our nation’s capital, three weeks ago, I had the opportunity to check in with Mr. Fluffy, the horribly mangy, filthy, smelly, scraggly, skinny, sickly cat who I rescued from the streets in ’17, who now looks like this:

He’s gorgeous and he doesn’t know it. He’s a very sweet kitty. You can pick him up and smooch him, he doesn’t mind.

Have a great weekend, Dear Ones. Our country still has the chance to redeem itself.

And if you want to read up on the latest in the resistance led by two smart and smart-ass women of spirit and gumption and righteousness, click here:

JackieSue, Yellow Dog Granny

Juanita Jean, The World’s Most Dangerous Beauty Salon

XXOO, Y’all.

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Sometimes you get something in your snail mail that isn’t junky:

Last week my American publisher sent me the brand new Korean edition of my last book, Gardens of Awe and Folly!

I did something in that book that I didn’t do in the two previous books, which was design it so that text was dropped onto and incorporated into full-page illustrations, so I was curious to see how the Korean edition would handle that:

Yes, the English text that appears over the top corner of this watercolor illustration of Karen Kersting’s rose garden in New Orleans was miraculously changed into Korean. Well done, 내 친구들.

Seeing this new version of my book reminds me how much work it takes to put a book together. And it reminds me how I better get cracking on that invention that I dream about, the Book That Writes Itself.  That would make like so much easier for yours truly.

I am half way there …  in that I have an app that promises to take care of the part of book-making that I call illustration. Yes! There’s an app that lets a book illustrate itself!

It’s called Waterlogue and here’s how it works:

Take a photograph of a scene that you want to paint itself (saving you, of course, the bother of getting all that watercolor equipment in line, the paints; the paper; the brushes; the jar of water that needs constant changing; the sense of dread and doom that you are going to have to paint this thing over and over again until you get it right; etc.

You run this photograph through the app and voila:

For comparison, here’s how this scene looks in Gardens of Awe and Folly:

I painted my scene (above) from a reference photograph that I took on a foggy Fall morning. I can’t find the exact reference photo in my files, but here’s what the place looked like last October:

That huge gnarly Copper Beech was cut down, having become too fall-aparty to be safe anymore. *Sigh* The guys with the choppers will come for us all, eventually.

Here’s a nice view in Claude Monet’s garden in Giverny, France (taken on my last visit, in May 2015):

Here is the illustration that I painted over the course of three of four painful afternoons:

I don’t like this pic. It is not included in my Monet book. If I had guts, I’d re-paint it but yeesh…that’s a lot of work. I’d really prefer it if the photo would paint itself.

And presto — here’s the Waterlogue app doing its thing:

Oh, crud. Looks like I’ll be hammering this picture out with my own two hammy fists.

Speaking of using my split writer/illustrator personality in the real world, I will be a hard-working Writer this September and October, leading four workshops at the Bryant Library in Roslyn, NY. The workshops are free, and open to all interested parties on the second and fourth Thursday evening in each month, from 7 – 9.

In my workshops I will learn you on identifying your voice; on understanding what your story is (is it a short story?…is it an episodic memoir?…is a confessional?…is it an 80,000 word novel?); on how to best communicate that story to your readers — in fact, on acknowledging that you are in fact writing for readers who you must visualize and take into account with every word you write. I will make you self-conscious as an observer of life so that you understand that life is what gives you copy.

I will urge you go to your local Walmart, your local grocery store, your nearest bus stop; I will make you report back to the workshop at least three overheard conversations that you gathered on your new role as a writer, a snoop, an observer of the human condition.

I will introduce you to the realities of the writing life: Are you ready for what it takes to prepare your writing for publication? (Because in my experience, something’s got to give for you to achieve your writing goals. For instance, I had to give up watching Dr. Phil every afternoon in order to meet my daily goal…sad, but true.)

Me, being all author-ish and talky, in front of people sitting in chairs in a room with a lot of books.

And if I can’t build me a Robot-Vivian between now and September,  this will indeed be me, in the flesh, talking about how to write for publication.

I know you are, like me, in awe of the successful rescue operation in Thailand that got all those kids and their soccer coach out of that dastardly cave. The rescue was nothing short of miraculous. The rescuers are heroes, straight up. It was a marvelous story.

But can I tell you a story of my own, please?

One day, when my brother was three years old, my parents had to rush him to the hospital. Why?

Because, prior to the fun rush to the hospital, my parents had thought that my brother was sitting happily in the driveway, amusing himself by playing with his Matchbox cars. But no, my brother had grown bored with his Matchbox cars  so what he was actually doing while sitting in the driveway was playing with all the little pebbles that had accumulated on the edge of the blacktop. Specifically, he was taking those little pebbles and, one by one, he was stuffing them up his nose. That is, until he had reached maximum stuffage, nose-wise, and began to cry because, I can only assume, having a nose packed full of little pebbles is somewhat uncomfortable.

The pebbles could only be extracted by a professional with a very long, slender, needle-nosed tool in the emergency room of Abington Hospital in Ambler, PA. Hence, the frantic car ride to our local hospital.

Now, you might wonder, Why would your brother pack his nose full of little pebbles from the driveway?

Good question. And, as best as I can figure, he did it because boys are stupid and they do stupid things, like pack their noses full of little pebbles, for no good damn reason.

The same way they go hiking in caves that are preposterously narrow, horrifyingly twisting, pitch-black dark, atmospherically foul, and fill with water when it rains (and it rains a lot in Thailand this time of year).

(In the above scenario, the soccer coach is my brother, and the kids on his team are the willing little pebbles that the soccer coach stuffed up the nose of the cave.)

That’s all I’m saying.

Have a great weekend, everyone.

Here’s some photos Dennis staying cool on the north shore of Long Island last week,  to get you off to a good start:

Dear Readers, may all your noses remain pebble-free, may all your explorations be to clean, well-lighted places.

XXOO

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It’s hot here on the north shore of Long Island. Hot hot hot hot.

All the smart kitties are conserving energy any way they can.

This is Steve, of course, cooling it on the front stoop.

Here are more of my kitties showing their genius at not getting their dander up when it’s 95 degrees and 78% humidity outside:

They are snoozing in the pretend shade of the coilus bush.

And this is our neighbor’s cat, Dennis, keeping it chill as seen from my kitchen window:

Denis is smart enough to snooze in the real shade of a real tree.

And this is what Top Cat and I are doing during this atrocious heat wave:

We are not as smart as the cats. Nope: We are expending a lot of energy getting all het up. What has got our blood boiling is, about once a year, my husband and I have a really big scorching fight, and this year’s blow-out coincides with actual, real-world sizzling temperatures.

Would it surprise you to know that I am not the kind of person who “lets things slide”? I am not the person you want around when you want to take out your frustrations with, say– as a totally random example — your bumpkin relatives who made you drive to New Jersey and back, on a week night, in rush hour traffic. Nope, the girl who is going to let that slide is not me. When it comes to debating the merits of you complaining about my keeping you waiting 5-minutes on a Sunday afternoon against you speaking nary a word against those who forced you to take a mid-week trek to Outer Bug Fuck, NJ, I will fiercely demand, “What’s up with that shit?”

In fact, I’m so fierce, I play tag with airplanes:

This picture is not Photoshopped. This is actually how close you can get to planes as they come in for a landing at National Airport in Washington, DC. This is easily the most fun thing I’ve ever done in DC,  our nation’s capital, and I have a lot to compare it to: I’ve been to Union Market and had the world’s most outstanding grilled cheese sandwich (caramelized opinions, gruyere, extra-toasty sourdough bread), and I’ve played the How Many Toys Can We Throw Over The Baby Fence with an extra-cute one-year old. So:

To play Tag the Airliner game, all you have to do is [have someone who has the app] check to see if the air traffic to National Airport is being routed from the north (the planes follow the curve of the Potomac River); if yes, then find a way to get to Gravelly Point (spoiler: It’s not easy), and then stand there. Every 90 seconds a plane will roar down on you, so close you can smell the diesel. It’s awesome.

OK, I admit that for the first few — or 20 — planes, I might have lost my nerve a bit:

Because planes are big, and loud, and shouldn’t be in the air in the first place.

This trip to DC, our nation’s capital, was so I could visit my sister and her family, which includes the afore-mentioned Extra Cute One-Year Old. My sister is 18 years younger than I, so it’s natural that when we are together with the Extra Cute One-Year Old that strangers would assume that I was the grandmother. We were sitting in a cafe at the excellent new Southwest Waterfront (DC’s hottest new development). . .

. . .  and a young/middle aged stopped by to admire the Extra Cute One-Year Old in his super-cool hi-teck  backpack/carrier. “That’s some special contraption,” he says.

 

Then he says to me, “Remember when we did it?”  [No, do I look like a grandmother??? but because I’m a wonderful human being I’ll play along and not take offense.]

I chuckled and said, “Right, all we had was a canvas sling.” Ha ha. That “we” cracks me up. As. If.

The next day I headed to the National Archives on my own to have a look around, and was going through the security check point when a young/middle aged officer said to me, “You can put your bag right here, young lady.”

Whoa. Do I look old enough that oldish guys are calling me that”young lady” thing that old and young-ish guys do to old ladies because they think it is charming for us old bats to be patronized that way?? And I was wearing skinny jeans!!

I’m seriously thinking of getting my hair dyed some flattering shade of honey blonde, like they do in France. Also, I should learn how to accessorize.

Next, we all met at the United States Botanic Garden not far from theArchives, and me, my sister, and the Extra Cute One-Year Old wandered into a greenhouse that featured small fake dinosaurs. “Hey!” I said to my sister, “If this is all about multi-million-year-old plants from the time of the dinosaurs (I know how to take a clue), maybe we could find a Wollemi Pine here!” Then I glanced at the ugly green thing that was growing in the exhibit right in front of me.

“It kind of looks like this,” I said.

Then I bent to read the label that was sticking up out of the ground in the display right in front of me.

For those of you reading along, I first got excited about the Wollemi Pine in the Key West chapter of my book, Gardens of Awe and Folly:

No, those aren’t illustrations of Wollemi Pines (above), but they are illustrations of another Australian pine that I love, called the Australian Pine. The Wollemi Pine under discussion is a 40-million year old plant that was presumed extinct until 1994 when a small clutch of 100 trees were discovered in a remote forest in New South Wales. The discovery sent shock waves of euphoria through the botanical community (such as it is) and propagations of the tree, which are most highly prized, have been sent around the world. (In Florida, the other Australian pine, the Australian Pine, is considered a pest, and outlawed from private and public gardens, except in Key West. Long story, full of injustice. It’s in the book. I do mention the Wollemi Pine in the Key West chapter, too, because Florida is a very good and legal place to grow Wollemi Pines. Go figure.)

I’ve only seen one other Wollemi Pine, a scraggly specimen in a corner of the Chelsea Physic Garden in London.

So I was really excited to see this Wollemi Pine here in DC, our nation’s capital!

Then we moseyed through the rest of the greenhouses, and I saw several more Wollemi Pines. By your fifth or sixth Wollemi Pine, you’ve pretty much seen enough of the Wollemi Pine. It’s not a particularly attractive plant.

Fun Fact: The Latin name for the Wollemi Pine is Wollemia noblis because it was discovered in the Wollemi National Park, and because the last name of the guy who discovered it was Nobel (David Nobel). How lucky is that!?

Other Fun Fact: Neither the Wollemi Pine nor the Australian Pine are”pines”.

One last FunFact: Traveling to DC, our nation’s capital, from New York City is tons of fun except when the train engineers can’t find an engine for train and it takes three hours to find one. I left DC, our nation’s capital, on such a train and by the time I was allowed to board I was in a tizzy. Luckily, I got a place in the Cafe Car, and I got myself a nice cold snack:

 And I wasn’t sharing.

Have a great weekend, Dear Readers. Yes, it’s hot, and there’s a vacancy on the Supreme Court, and we are very near the collapse of our democracy, but to cheer you up I’m going to show you the front page of the New York Daily News from July 4:

Keep Calm and Fight On.

 

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Me, somewhere in Tel Aviv, in 1988.

In the late 1980s I was a part-time gemology student (diamond grading, colored stone ID, appraising, etc.) and a full-time salesperson in a jewelry store on Fifth Avenue in New York City. The job, like every other job in retail, sucked, because people suck, especially people who have nothing better to do than shop for jewelry.

Every morning, we sales “associates” had to come in early to pull all the gems from the vault to set them up in showcases. One morning I was setting up a showcase full of diamond jewelry when a security guard strolled by.

“Ah,” he said; “Diamonds, one of the gems from the Bible.”

Right: this security guard was an evangelical Christian, who walked around with a smile on his face because he was certain that the Rapture was coming any day now and all us non-believers were going to have to watch him be seated on the right hand of the Lord while we were thrown into pits of hell fire. He was inclined to drop Biblical musings into his conversation so this observation of his did not surprise me much. He also wore crappy three-piece suits with cowboy boots in Manhattan. He was supremely annoying in almost every way. I usually ignored him, but not this time.

You see, I was a totally obsessive gemology student, and diamonds were (and still are) a favorite stone, and I was also making frequent trips to Israel, so I didn’t even look up from my work  when I said, “You mean יהלום, Yahalom, as described in breast plate of the high priest in Exodus? Actually it wasn’t a diamond in the breastplate, I think you must have read a bad translation, because there were no diamonds in the Holy Land, so the word most likely refers a clear quartz rather than an actual diamond. Some scholars also think it might have been a jasper.”

Breastplates, and high priests, have long gone out of style in Judaism; since about 2500 years ago.

Truthfully, I was just being a know-it-all. I wasn’t trying to shame the guy for his naïveté. So, having finished showing off, I faced the jewelry store cowboy, and I will never forget the look on his face. It’s the only time I’ve ever seen someone look stunned.

I think this was the first time he’d ever considered that the Bible was not originally written in English. And, thus, several other sneaking suspicions might have crept into his brain-pan: That the Bible that he conspicuously read in the break room every day could not be quoted randomly as the word-for-word  capital “T” Truth; that this book of his required a lot of critical thinking, as opposed to blind faith; and maybe he’s not as superior as he thought he was.

After a moment of silence, he nodded and backed away.

I think about this guy in the jewelry store every time I hear radical Christians hauling out the Bible for a good thumping in order support their opinion about Right and Wrong.

It’s been another wearying couple of weeks in America. Melanoma Drumpf has proved to be every bit the shit heel as every other Drumpf; the conservative-packed Supreme Court upholds gerrymandering to sideline minority and Democratic voters; Jeff Sessions is still AG, little kids might never be returned to their parents, and der Drumpf is still picking on Canada.

At a campaign ally in South Carolina on Monday, June 25, der Drumpf was speaking in support of the GOP nominee for governor, and as the Toronto Star reported:

“Trump’s speech was rambling even by his own rally standards: it involved extended criticism of three late-night television hosts, musings on his hair, an unprompted denial that his wife recently had a facelift, an accusation that the news media is “the enemy of the people,” numerous boasts and false claims, and another recounting of his triumphant performance in the 2016 campaign.

When Trump eventually got around to Canada, he began by saying “Canada” in a loud, exaggerated voice.

Canada. You know, Canada: nice guy, nice guy,” he said, extending his arms in a kind of conciliatory gesture. “Prime minister. Justin. I said, ‘Justin, what’s your problem, Justin?’ So: Canada. O Canada. I love their national anthem. O Canada. I like ours better, however. So. No, Canada’s great, I love Canada.”

There could still be a happy ending to the tale of the miserable pile of Drumpfs and their idiot Drumpf-dom. After all, once I got my gemology degree I moved on to Christie’s auction house heading up the Faberge department, and then I started to freelance as a feature writer, and then books. See? Happy Ending.

So let’s bring this blog post to a happy ending by checking in with the cat herd here in Vivian World. I took this photo at 9:30 last Sunday morning, after Top Cat and I had finished reading our New York Times and had given over the new couches to Candy, Bibs, and Taffy:

Bibs was the very picture of Happy Dreaming:

And this was the gang four hours later:

Have a great weekend, everyone. May America’s tolerance for vile stupidity reach its tipping point very soon, and may hordes of decent citizens rid us of the plague called Drumpf.

 

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About once a day, someone will step into the little charity book store that I co-manage here, on the north shore of Long Island, and stand, as if in shock, in the narrow aisle that is the main thoroughfare of our cubby hole, and bleat, “Is this the whole store?”

Yes, yes it is. Our used book store is really small. Into this charming space we cram (my educated guess) a little over 2,000 books.

That number includes a few duplicates. The most-duplicated book in our stock is this:

We have four different copies of this book: original hardback, paperback, hard-bound paperback, and a special abridged version for younger readers. This book came out in 2010 when the author, Wes Moore, went on Oprah when she was still on TV, whereupon it sold what we in the publishing business call “a shit load”*** and now, seven years after its pub date, it is STILL #250 on Amazon.com. So I bought one of the copies and read it.

In brief, this book is about two kids named Wes Moore who were born blocks apart within a year of each other in similar Baltimore neighborhoods and both had difficult childhoods; one grew up to be a Rhodes Scholar, decorated veteran, White House Fellow, and business leader, while the other ended up a convicted murderer serving a life sentence.

The ex-Rhodes scholar is the author of the book. The “other” Wes Moore became a grandfather at age 36 while he was in prison. Is it crappy of me to say that I grew weary of the other Wes Moore’s story? His tale is a dreary accumulation of the predictable poor choices that have become cliche in urban culture which, as the other Wes Moore shows, are not the inevitable price you have to pay for being poor in America.

As soon as I bought one of the four copies that we had in the store, another copy came in. So if you are looking for The Other Wes Moore, we have one that is right for you. (Price: $1.)

***The Other Wes Moore sold 140,000 in paperback in 2012. That’s all I could find. I hope you find this interesting because I, as an author, find sales figures fascinating.

We also have three copies of this:

Original pub date, 2003. 80 million copies sold.

Price: 50 cents. I haven’t read it, and probably never will.  One of our volunteer book sellers was helping me shelve a batch of new donations, which included a copy of this book, and she asked me if this was Fiction or Not. (Please note that it says, right on the cover, A Novel.) The scary thing is, this volunteer used to be a high school teacher.

We used to have three copies of this delightful number:

Original pub date, 2008. 10 million copies sold world-wide.

We are currently sold out of this title because I kept recommending it to customers who liked fiction and/or books set in Paris. I read this book and liked it far more than I thought I would, and I like this cover immensely for reasons I can’t really explain. Maybe because it does not give anything away, or maybe because it reminds me of Vermeer’s paintings. Feel free to discuss.

We currently have three copies of this:

Original pub date, 2005. As of 2014, it has sold 7 million copies in 35 languages.

I like the Freakonomics podcast but I’ve never read the book, so I brought a paperback copy home with me. I must have looked at this cover 20 times (I admire its jazzy colors, and lime green is a particular favorite of mine) before I realized that the apple is photoshopped to have an orange inside it. I love it!! This is a very sophisticated image, and is a clever way to illustrate that Levitt and Dubner are masters at comparing apples to oranges.

P.S. I was wondering if that “apples and oranges” idiom was translatable to other languages, so I tried to find the foreign editions of this book’s cover. I could only find the Hindi version:

Some color scheme, but weirder.

So I guess that the answer to my wondering is, “No.”

I’m reading the chapter about selling crack cocaine in the 1990s. According to Levitt and Dubner, it was a lot like selling nylon stockings in the 1940s. More contemporarily, Levitt and Dubner explain the allure of selling crack cocaine on the street by situating the whole illegal drugs enterprise within the context of other American businesses. That’s how I came upon this on page 104:

In the glamour professions — movies, sports, music, fashion — there is a different dynamic at play. Even in second-tier glamour industries like publishing, advertising, and media, swarms of bright young people throw themselves at grunt jobs that pay poorly and demand unstinting devotion. 

Say what, now?

As I have had three books published, I consider myself to be part of the publishing business which, I have always smugly assured myself and others, gives me one of the most deliriously glamorous jobs in the whole world. Now I find out that it’s a second-tier glamour industry??

I also want to know, Is there a third tier?

I definitely want to know what jobs are on that list.

Oh, Dear Readers, it’s been a tough few weeks here in the der Drmpfian demise of democracy. The obscenity of government officials quoting the Bible to defend taking children away from their immigrant parents got me so depressed that I could see no other way of lifting my misery than to go to the local shelter and adopt a DoG.

No, I didn’t get a DoG, but only because I need one that is OK with cats (8 of ’em, at last count) and the shelter didn’t have any they could vouch for. I spent some time with a cute 10-year old Puggle named Barry, who, sadly, did not pass muster when I asked the crucial question, “Is he house broken?” (Been there, done that.)

A Puggle, but not Barry. A Puggle is the cross of a Pug and a Beagle.

There were two chihuahuas up for adoption at the shelter, but I don’t think I’m a chihuahua person. In theory I’m fine with pit bulls, but a lot of the pits on hand need to be the only animal in the house.

And yeah, sure, der Drumpf signed the executive order, but that makes our country only slightly less shit hole-isa, so I still need a DoG. This weekend I am visiting another animal shelter.

Yes, I know that getting a DoG is setting myself up for heartache. I remember very clearly how I went a little crazy when my sweet cocker spaniel, Boogie Girl, died, which was the most pain I’ve ever felt in my life. But what is it about DoGs that even this born-and-bred Cat Lady can’t resist?

 

*Sigh*

DoGs.

Have another great weekend, everyone. We’ll get through this. We will.

 

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On March 31 of this year, Helen Mirren told reporter Sebastian Shakespeare of  The Daily Mail : “I’ll tell you what I had done recently, which I love — I got my eyebrows tattooed.”

“I was fed up of my brows barely being there and when one of my girlfriends got it done, I thought that they looked great.

“They’re very lightly and delicately done — but it means that when I get up in the morning and I have no make-up on, at least I have eyebrows.

“It’s made a huge difference.”

For the record, this (see below) is what La Grande Dame, Her Highness Helen was talking about when she said her eyebrows were “barely there“:

Photo credit: Russell Clisby

Me and Helen, we have the same problem, eyebrow-wise:

Well, we all know how much everyone here in VivianWorld loves, adores, and aspires to be like Helen Mirren, She Who Can Do No Wrong.

So I did it. After two months of dithering, I got my eyebrows tattooed.

It hurt.

I clutched/dig my fingernails into a stress ball and gritted my teeth during the worst of it (about 14 minutes in all, before the topical anesthesia is applied) and I made it through the entire procedure without screaming, which took 2 1/2 hours, which includes the lengthy paperwork (for New York state) and consultation during which I showed my esthetician, Christine, my Helen Mirren photo (same as above) and said, “I want her eyebrows.” Which I can’t have because my brow line is different, so I had to settle for Vivian Swift eyebrows.

Fun fact: Christine told me that human faces are asymmetrical, which is why you really do have a “good” side, and keeping that in mind she tries to make eyebrows that are also slightly asymmetrical to look more natural. She informed me that I, however, have an unusually non-asymmetrical face. So this is what I want on my tombstone:

Here lies Vivian. She was very symmetrical.

Barbra Streisand’s famous GOOD side. She is NEVER photographed from the other side.

You are warned that when you finish your first microblading (that’s eyebrow tattoo-talk) session to to be alarmed. Your brows will look unnaturally dark. Rest assured, the ink will settle and fade into a more natural hue after a few weeks, at which time you will go back for a touch-up to perfect get your final semi-permanent brows. After that, you’ll only need to stop by every year or two to keep the brows looking spiffy.But when I saw my new eyebrows I was horrified. I felt as if I was ready for a starring role in kabuki theater. Like I was wearing Halloween make up. My eyebrows looked ridiculous! I was aghast, but Christine swore to me that the brows looked great and that I would get used to them. I wondered, What on earth have I done to myself???

Later that day I had to drive to the train station to pick up Top Cat and I was still extremely self-conscious about these weird things on my forehead. I put on extra eye make up in order to off-set my jarring appearance in the hopes that when Top Cat saw the New Me, he would not tell me what I already knew: that I had made a terrible, terrible mistake.

So Top Cat gets in the car and he looks at me carefully, searchingly, and at last he says: “I don’t see any difference.”

That is why I love this man. OK, sure, he has stopped looking at me since we first met 15 years ago — that is, has not updated his mental image of me since 2003 — but at this point in life, I am grateful for that.

Of course I am going to show you the new eyebrows:

My hair is not having a good day.

It’s been two weeks now and I have come to love my new eyebrows. And perhaps not coincidentally, a few days ago a new acquaintance guessed that I was in my 40s and we were in a room with fluorescent lighting. It’s the eyebrows. They take 20 years off your face. Also, my hair was having a very good day. And maybe she was extremely bad at guessing people’s age. Still, I love having eyebrows. Thank you, Helen Mirren.

OK, now that the exciting part of this week’s blog is over, let me catch you all up on the used book store news: Remember my rainbow display from last week? (Hint — that’s it, below.)

As I was flummoxed about what books to put on either side of this display, I asked for your help last week and I appreciated your feedback, Dear Readers. The sum of your advise was for me to think more outside of cliche, so I looked all over our shelves for something word-associative to Gay Pride to use but, as Steve said, you have to work with what you have on hand, and we don’t have a lot of poetry or art books:

It’s a small used book store with limited shelf space. Sometimes we have no idea where a book should go to be with its own kind, so I have to get creative with the labels.

Well, it beats “Miscellaneous”.

And then the obvious hit me, and this is now what is on either side of our rainbow stacks of books:

The second-most interesting book donation that came in last week was this:

This book was published in 1988, which would disqualify it even if it wasn’t full of “quizzes” you can take to know whether or not you really love your boyfriend, or how much he respects you, or if you should just be friends with your crush, etc., all of which had already been filled in and scored (you see now that this is the kind of junk we get all the time) but good lord, I just looked it up on Amazon.com and the book is out-of-print and there are only 2 old copies of this book for sale, one for $1,009.00 and the other for $5,930. Can those prices be for real??

Anyhoo, I did not throw it out because I love the ’80s clothing on the cover. It made me hum Bananrama all afternoon. . .

I say it all the time. I miss the ’80s.

. . . and I also did not throw this book away because the cover (and spine) are a shade of green that I desperately needed for one of my rainbow stack of books. So a vintage copy of Girltalk About Guys is sitting on the mantel in the used book store of the William Cullen Bryant Library of Roslyn, NY, if anyone wants to buy it. I’ll sell it for cheap. $200. All proceeds benefit the library.

And before I go, I must say something about Anthony Bourdain.

I say it all the time. I miss Obama.

After he got famous with his book about the underbelly of the restaurant business, Kitchen Confidential, Anthony Bourdain could have settled for a TV show on the Food network, to coast on his 15 minutes of fame for the rest of his life. But no, he went in a totally unexpected direction, hitting the road with a camera crew, traveling for 250 days a year to experience life way, way, way off the beaten track, or in some overlooked corner of America that made our own backyard seem like a foreign country. And although I am not all that interested in food, and most of the stuff he ate disgusted me (I don’t think we should eat animals), I always enjoyed Anthony Bourdain’s smart and snide and funny and sincere interpretations of the taste, sounds, smells, and feelings of food and drink.

He was also a role model in that he showed me how to stay curious, how to engage with new experiences, and how to stay cool in your 60s. He was always willing to experiment with his own comfort level, and seemed committed to discovering something authentic in every encounter, which is such a high level of engagement with life that constantly inspired me.   I will miss him.

Have a great weekend, Dear Readers. May you do something completely out of the ordinary, and come back and tell us all about it.

 

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As I announced a while ago, I now have the unbearably glamorous volunteer job of co-managing a used book store here on the north shore of Long Island.

The wall clock stopped telling time about a decade ago, and the fireplace underneath it is used only for its mantel.

100% of our inventory of used books comes from donations…which means that we often get bag-loads of crap dumped on us, from people who think that “donations” is another word for “here, this stuff is now your problem.”

So I wrote up new guidelines:

Please, no college text books, water-damaged Philip Roth novels, spinning wheel repair manuals, baby raccoons, left-over lasagna, or out-of-state library books. Everything else between two covers is gladly and gratefully accepted.

The book store is in the front parlor (I like to think it used to be old Mrs. Valentine’s sitting room where she had tea parties during the Monroe administration) in the historic c. 1820 Valentine House in Roslyn, NY and all the money we make from selling used books goes to the local library.

As the enviously philanthropic volunteer co-manager of the Roslyn library used book store, I wield absolute power when it comes to deciding what to display on the fireplace mantel. Here’s the display I made in celebration of LGBTQ Pride Month:

The vertical rainbows are paperback, and the horizontal rainbows are hard-backs. I had the most trouble finding book covers in the color green. Judging by my inventory, green is the least-used color in book-binding.

We were also lacking inventory in green book covers because I had previously plundered our stock for my  own bookshelves:

The idea came to me on a slow day in the used-book selling world. It was also raining (which doesn’t bring in the punters) and I was hungry.

As you can see, my decor à live combines low and high culture…if indeed such a distinction can be made:

I confess that I am not tempted to read any of the books on display chez moi. I think that reading them would totally ruin them for me, as objets d’art, don’t you think?

I rather like the image of Light on Snow, and it makes me happy to imagine all the possibilities that might be contained in Anita Shreve’s novel. And look! Stacked as they are, they make a poem:

Light on Snow, Winter Study

Jem (and Sam)…

heart of the matter

This relates: The great novelist Vladimir Nabokov (so I’ve heard; I’ve never read any of his books) was teaching literature to undergraduates in Ithaca, New York when he wrote about a meeting he’d had with a student who was failing his class. In his diary, dated March 21, 1951, Nabokov wrote:

“the student explained to me me that when reading a novel (Ulysses, in this case) he likes to skip passages and pages so as to get his own idea, you know, about the book and not be influenced by the author.”

Nobaokov did  not record whether this kid made him laugh, or cry, or both.

There was plenty of space left on our book store mantel on either side of my rainbow display, and I searched for good LGBTQ titles but, this being a used book store, I had to go with what I had on hand.

I went with the most glamorous titles we had, because the New York Gay Pride Parade on June 24 will be amazingly glittery…but I’m still a teeny bit concerned that my intentions will be misinterpreted. Are there better topics other than Hollywood and royalty that I should have considered? Discuss.

And, as long as we are all sitting in a circle and having a chat, let us all congratulate Dear Reader Kirra from The Land of Oz, who is taking up residence in Salzburg, Austria next year. When she dropped that news on us last month, the first thing I thought was, Girl, you need a theme song.

Kirra, I’m talking to you from experience; you need to take a mixed tape with you to Salzburg so that you will play it over and over in your garrett, to become ingrained in your daily life, so that for ever more, when those songs come on the radio, you will be shot back to that special time and place with an intensity and recall that only music can trigger. Which I don’t have to tell you — you’re a music teacher.

You don’t have to decide right now what your theme song is, but you do have to have a play list that you will sing along with and remember home by and console and inspire yourself with, on all those nights and days in that foreign land.

Whenever I hear  Haven’t Got Time For The Pain by Carly Simon, or  The Last Time I Saw Richard by Joni Mitchell, or The Koln Concert by Keith Jarrett, I am instantly 22 again, living through one of the coldest Winters on record in Paris. Add a glass or two of wine to the soundtrack and I can re-play the entire year, all the sights and sounds and tastes and feelings. Oh, the misery and oh, the giddiness. Nothing will ever feel so bad and so good at the same time as being 22 years old in Paris, and nothing brings it back more vividly than this bunch of accidental theme songs. I want that for you, Kirra.

Speaking of Paris, the capital of France, I want to take this opportunity to whine about something that has always annoyed me about the book cover that Bloomsbury did for my book about France, called Le Road Trip:

THIS (above) is not what makes me unhappy about the cover. THIS (below) is what I can’t stand:

I pitched a fit when I saw this and I tried to get them to change it, but I was told that it was too late, the covers had already been printed. I absolutely and undyingly loathe the green lettering of the title because it’s an unattractive shade of green and because green makes no fucking sense. What makes it so maddening is that I was in on the editorial meetings when we discussed cover art and I specifiedthat the coloring on the spine should be blue, white, and red for obvious reasons:

Did the art director hand off this assignment to a beginner graphic artist who called in sick the day we sat around a big table in the conference room and discussed what I wanted? Or is the person who chose to go with this stupid green lettering just a terribledesigner? When you are designing something — anything — you have to consider every single itty bitty detail; you have to question every aspect, you have to know the reason for, and be able to justify, each of the countless small and large choice that you make.

Do you think that the great designer Marc Jacobs designs his lace overlay silk jacket and then lets an assistant choose the buttons?

The answer is, “No.”

I never, in a million years, would have chosen puke olive green for the spine lettering on a book about France. Every time I look at those stupid three words in shades of  scum I want to punch somebody. I have very little tolerance for shoddy thinking.

The Chinese and Korean editions of Le Road Trip didn’t go along with the blue, white, and red color palette either …

… but I wasn’t in on the editorial meetings so I’m OK with that.

Next post about my fabulous incarnation as a volunteer co-manager at the used book store will be all about the staff, all retirees, one of which who asked me, “Do we alphabetize our books by author, or by title?”

Or maybe we will discuss How I Never Want To Get Old And Stupid.

My Darling Readers, have a glittery, glitzy, stupidity-free weekend. May all your theme songs make you want to get up and dance, dance, dance!

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