July 2018

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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