Tag Archives: books

Book Heaven

Saturday I got to go back to one of my favorite places. All through college, I worked at an independent bookshop in a small town near my school, and if it had been even close to financially possible, I would’ve rather worked there full-time after graduating than anywhere else. But, as all cynics will tell you, the book industry is going through hard times (is that euphemistic?), and I thought after graduating, I’d never be able to work there again.

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But two weeks ago, I went back to the shop-from-my-dreamworld to buy some books, and my boss was happy to see me. So happy, in fact, that she asked if I could come work some Saturdays before Christmas.

That was exactly what I wanted to happen.

IMG_0963Yesterday was my first day back. I walked in to the twinkling lights in the window, the books lining the shelves, my coworkers so sweet and kind. They asked me how I was, what life was like after graduation, what it was like teaching Latin to 100 students (okay, I rounded up – it’s only 99). I work with six women who share my love of books and it’s heavenly.


IMG_0964(Seriously, this place couldn’t get any quainter. The train from the city runs through, and the sound of it chugging up to the station on gray winter days makes me think I’m in Narnia or something.)
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I sold The Art of Fielding to a man for his wife’s birthday (“She loves baseball. This is perfect!”). I sold two beautiful picture books for a 3-year-old girl about adventure. And I sold four books – to myself.

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My latest discovery in my attempt to read as many different poetic styles as possible.

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And finally. After thinking we already owned a copy and not being willing to pay for another, I ordered my own copy. Let’s see if I fall in love.

(I haven’t decided yet if I am keeping the fourth book or giving it as a gift, so that will have to remain a secret.)

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And yes, I’ve met John Updike himself.

A Perfect Day

Five weeks is too long to go without seeing a good friend. Especially when that friend lives only forty-five minutes away. What is it about driving in and out of the city that seems so daunting?

But it was finally remedied this Saturday, with a train ride, a car ride, and a stretched-long day. It was the sort of day where you never stop talking, and then, as dinner gets closer, you’re exhausted by the talk. We looked at each other, and we were speechless. Finally.

What does it take to make the perfect day?

  • Coffee shops – with strong coffee, an array of hipsters and business people and grandmas and grandpas talking about who was making the green bean casserole for Thanksgiving.
  • People watching – this can be done in silence or with conversation, depending on your mood.
  • Long walks – around a slightly unfamiliar city, discovering used bookshops on side streets, down to the harbor, around and around until your feet are sore and you forget for a moment what it feels like to sit
  • Used Bookshops – these are a must. Find a beautiful hardcover about W. H. Auden for $8 and carry it in your purse for days because you hope to find five minutes to read it.

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  • Roast beef and reuben sandwiches – duh.
  • Random parades – run to watch the parade of cars, trucks, police cars and screaming people. Because winning the state championship for your high school football team is pretty awesome, and yelling out your car, blasting your horn, and feeling like you own the world are the best ways to celebrate.
  • Sitting in fake wooden boats – yes, do this, even though it seems odd. It’s best to sit in said wooden boat until it gets dark, laughing so loudly that the people walking by raise their eyebrows. Tell each other they’re jealous of your joy.

Too much can happen in five weeks to be talked about in one day.

But there’s never too much to laugh about.

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Long Weekend Happiness

My four days off stretch before me – an eternity and the blink of an eye at the same time.

I woke up yesterday to the first snow. It had started the night before, and as we drove up out of the city (book club likes to hop all over the place, this week finding residence in a hilly city neighborhood), I watched the white flakes pelt the windows. I felt young, watching it snow, and later slipping along the sidewalk in my boots.

What I want to do with four days off:

  • READ. Like it’s my job. Finish Circling to the Center, make a dent in Tale of Two Cities, digest a little more Rilke, discover the four or five issues of ‘The Sun’ my writer friend lent me, EVERYTHING.
  • WRITE. I wrote my first short story in a long time this week. It flowed out of me, which was lovely, but now I’m thinking, shoot, now I have to edit it. I’m not so good with that part.
  • SING. Warm-up. Play the piano while I sing some hymns. Pretend I know what I’m doing again. Maybe some German art songs, but I may be too ambitious (again).
  • Finish my brother’s sweater. (Yes, I knit. It’s like the icing on the dork-cake. In my defense, he asked me to make him a sweater, so really I’m just being a kind sister…)
  • WALK. I miss the outdoors. I miss the sunshine, the leaves, the color of the sky. I plan on going for a number of walks in the next few days.

What I DON’T want to do, but need to do:

  • CLEAN MY ROOM. Gross.
  • Find the water heater for my chickens. It’s getting colder (or at least, it’s supposed to be getting colder), and the waterer started to ice over the other day. Not cool.
  • CLEAN MY CAR. Yeah, like that’s really gonna happen.
  • LESSON PLANS. I have a lot of planning for the next week or two of Latin. We’re starting Chapter Six in my high school class, and it’s painful. Remember how in your English classes, your teachers always told you not to write in the passive voice? Well, Latiners LOVED using passive verbs. So basically I think I’ll need to give a mini-English lesson before I even introduce the Latin (i.e., “What’s the difference between ‘Marcus hits Iulia’ and ‘Iulia is hit by Marcus’?”). And welcome to: Prepositions that Take the Accusative Case. And welcome to: The Locative Case.

Now on my way to my favorite little bookstore. Stock up on those books I’ll be reading.

The Dirty Life

Okay, I admit it: I definitely judge a book by its cover.

But even more than that: I judge a book by its title.

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I saw this book in the “Self-Sufficient” section of Barnes and Noble (forgive me, small independent bookstores! you are still my number-one!), and I bought it. I love the title, and no, I do not care that it was coined to catch people just like me, those of us who are easily amused. I went home immediately and started reading, getting engrossed in Kimball’s love story (Mark was just about to make a move!) when, to my horror, I found that the book was MISSING 30 PAGES!

You cannot imagine my anger.

There was no way I was going to read ahead, so I had to wait two days til I could get a new copy.

I am about 2/3 of the way done now, and I love it. Kimball is honest and I find that pretty refreshing; she doesn’t pretend that the love she and Mark have makes farming easy.

And she’s had her own mishaps with dumb mistakes.

There are a lot of moments in the book that I appreciate, but here are a few:

One of the gorgeous and highly annoying things about Mark’s personality is that, once he bites into an idea, he’ll worry it to death, exploring every possibility, expanding it to the point of absurdity and then shrinking it back down, molding it around different premises, and bending logic, when necessary, to cram it into a given situation. No matter what he is doing or saying or thinking, the idea is perking away in the background of his formidable brain, details accruing (57).

A farm is a form of expression, a physical manifestation of the inner life of its farmers. The farm will reveal who you are, whether you like it or not. That’s art (157).

I was in love with the work, too, despite its overabundance. The world had always seemed disturbingly chaotic to me, my choices too bewildering. I was fundamentally happier, I found, with my focus on the ground. For the first time, I could clearly see the connection between my actions and their consequences. I knew why I was doing what I was doing, and I believed in it (158).

The only annoying thing, then, is the fact that I was not the person to write this book.

The Four Loves and Kindred Spirits

 I have been avoiding C.S. Lewis for awhile now, ever since I attempted Mere Christianity with little progress. He seemed dry and dull and far too intellectual – nothing like my experience with faith. But after prodding from a dear friend, “Give it a try, Cath. Trust me. It’s one of my favorites.”, I picked up the beautiful copy of Lewis’s The Four Loves that had sat on my bookshelf, unnoticed and certainly unloved.

There is nothing better than a beautiful book beside your bed, waiting for you to put the day aside and enter into someone else’s thoughts, even for a little while.

Here was a man I felt I had met before. What could a balding Anglican Brit have in common with a young American woman from the twenty-first-century? No longer did he seem like an emotionless intellectual, but he wrote like someone who had struggled with the same things I am working through. Lewis doesn’t leave his intellect behind in The Four Loves, but he uses it to delve into the human experience and show the manifestations of God’s love here on earth. He divides love into four categories – Affection, Friendship, Eros, and Charity – and shows the different aspects of God’s character in each. Of course, I enjoyed some more than others (who doesn’t like a good discussion of eros?), but the truth is, all four are interconnected. They overlap and share some of the beautiful qualities that make each one worthwhile, each one important to our fullness. “We need others physically, emotionally, intellectually; we need them if we are to know anything, even ourselves,” Lewis says (215). This acknowledgment of our need, rather than making me actually feel needy, allowed me to breathe more deeply. So this desire I feel for communion, for friendship, for relationship with others, is good? It isn’t (necessarily) misplaced need? I’ve known for awhile that we were created to be in communion (who has spent any time at a Christian university WITHOUT hearing that?!), but here, now, finally, I can see why. A reflection of the Trinity, yes. But a window to the self, as well.

Pope John Paul II, in his “On the Dignity and Vocation of Women on the Occasion of the Marian Year” reminds us:

For every individual is made in the image of God, insofar as he or she is a rational and free creature capable of knowing God and loving him. Moreover, we read that man cannot exist “alone” (cf. Gen 2:18); he can exist only as a “unity of the two”, and therefore in relation to another human person…Being a person in the image and likeness of God thus also involves existing in a relationship, in relation to the other “I” (III.7).

So I’m getting it from all sides, this interconnectedness, this relationship. I watched “Anne of Green Gables” last night, and I was immediately transported to girlhood. I remember longing for Anne’s idea of a”bosom friend,” a “kindred spirit,” and even now, as I watched and nearly quoted each line as it came, I realized that that is still what I seek. The difference is, though, that there are more kindred spirits than I thought (Anne says the same later on). I’ve found some in the strangest places – growing up down the street, studying the perplexing subject of English (what in the world is its use?!), living in my surprise apartment senior year of college. I even found one working at the tea shop.

I guess all that to say, love and its many forms continue to fascinate me. Affection and Eros, Friendship and Charity, they have such possibility, such potential to bring peace and hope and comfort. Kindred spirits are hiding just down the street, just at the next table, sipping their own cups of coffee and smiling to themselves as they read. They could have written books over fifty years ago, only to be discovered and appreciated by you so much later. They could also be burning their own granola.

To always be looking for those kindred spirits. That sounds like a good champagne toast to me.

Back Home!

Back from a week of the midwest. How’d I do with my list?

On the Plane
  • Finish Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking and start Slouching Towards Bethlehem
Let’s just say I finished The Year of Magical Thinking long before I got to the plane, and I didn’t have time to grab Slouching Towards Bethlehem. Did read Diane Keaton’s Then Again, which was pretty good. Could’ve used more pictures of Warren Beatty though…
  • Watch all the passengers
And make up stories about them…BIG CHECK
  • Write in my journal
Of course this happened, but it’s always harder for me to write when there is so much to look at and experience. What if I miss something?! The real writing comes later.
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  • Hang out!
We got lost on the way home from the airport (not so shocking to people who know us), and we talked the entire time. And didn’t really stop until the last hug at the Tulsa airport three days later. A lot happens in two years, but it’s amazing how you immediately fall back into the way things always were.
  • Eat sushi and barbecue
Yes, I consumed both sushi and barbecue while in OK. I didn’t even have to ask for them. Now that’s good hosting.
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  • Relax
Definitely. Read. Wrote. Ran dogs in the woods. Went to Barnes and Noble, drank coffee, and looked through books with beautiful houses. Talked a lot. (I’m pretty sure I left A. exhausted, both emotionally and verbally. He’s not used to my lifestyle.)
  • Check out a church
Went to church. A lot. Early service in chairs in a make-shift sanctuary while the real sanctuary is being renovated. Then on to Sunday School (and yes, people are interesting/weird/lovable wherever you go). Then to help out in children’s church. I have a new appreciation for people who work with children. The patience those helpers exhibited could only come from God. Then at 6:30 there was evening church. The evening sermon was thought-provoking, and on the way home we got burgers. A good ending.
  • Check out a museum

Um, St. Louis closes down on Mondays. No art museums were open! But my girlfriends and a husband and I rode the tram up to the arch and looked out over the city. While we waited to go up, we strolled through the Lewis and Clark museum, so I guess that can count. The tram was like a little capsule for five people. We only had four in our group, so some unsuspecting bald man had to squeeze in with us. And the three of us girls sure know how to be annoying when we’re happy. Poor guy.

And I come home, a little more broke than when I left. But who’s complaining? Too many good memories to care.

A Good Day

Yesterday was a good day. I woke up and attempted to give it to the Lord – largely because I hoped if I did that, He would make it good. But I’d done the same thing the day before Lord, this is Your day. Help me to live it well. and He had not made it good, at least by my standards.

Here I was again, asking that He take this block of time and make it good. The way I wanted it. This time He decided to fill it up with some Catherine-type-goodness:

1. I sent in my application and downpayment for a TEFL program in the city. I can’t tell you how accomplished I feel, just putting that stupid envelope in the mail (yes, that’s right, envelope, because they don’t take online payment! What is this, the 20th century?!). Now to wait it out and see. A full month of school – does it get any better?

2. 30 minutes with a dear friend. 30 minutes in which I was asked about how I truly was, and truly asked in return. 30 minutes in which I was told my poetry submission to the student-run publication had caused the most conversation of all. Score. And 30 minutes to remember that we are not called to love others only when they are happy, excited, beautiful, but that we have enough love for them even when they are a darker version of themselves. Friends remind us of a lot.

3. And this one is the most embarrassing: laughing out loud roughly five times in a crowded Starbucks. Alone. Curled up in a comfy chair. Reading. I couldn’t believe myself. I NEVER do that, but Bill Bryson had me in fits of giggles in public, and, frankly, more people should’ve joined me. That man is hilarious.

Ah. Goodness.