Thursday, April 23, 2015

Old Books, Rare Friends - Rostenberg and Stern

If you're a true book fanatic, this is a great read. I found myself relating to the term 'Finger-Spitzengefuhl' that these ladies talk about - that inexplicable tingling that emanates from your fingertips when you find the perfect treasure in a pile of books at a flea market or used book store or at a library book sale and it dawns on you that you have truly come upon something special. My incidents of Finger-Spitzengefuhl are humble in comparison to these renowned antiquarian book dealers, though! Imagine finding original printings of tracts created in the Leyden print works of William Brewster, scientific texts from the library of Robert Boyle, 'blood and thunder' serial tales printed in mid-19th century sensational papers that were penned by Louisa May Alcott under her pseudonyms ! These are just a few of the more sensational finds that these ladies made over their years of researching the printing process and the literature and social tracts printed around the world.

This joint memoir is an inspiration to anyone who ever dreamt of looking through a pile of old books and coming upon a true treasure of history. Sadly, both Leona and Madeleine have passed away and their incredible knowledge is relegated to their long list of published writings, but boy, what women they were!

A fast and really interesting read that places you right alongside them as they made the journey from NYC to Europe and back, through the halls of academia to the eccentric world of antiquarian book trade, from dusty cellars to spiffy trade shows to the offices of some of the most respected research libraries in the United States.  And all the time ... it's all about the books and the research and the history and the incredible sense of exhilaration when a true gem is unearthed!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Hands 2 Help Update ... Card Trick Quilt !

So, it's check in day with the other quilters that are participating in the Hands 2 Help charity quilting event that Sarah Craig is hosting ! I'm a bit late, as life has been very busy of late! 

For my quilt, I chose the colors of Provence to make a really cheerful quilt top that is a variation on the Card Trick quilt pattern. It's a project that I have wanted to complete for a couple years. I found the project in a quilting magazine that a friend passed off to me when she was cleaning out her sewing studio. 

This past February, my family lost our sweet little niece, Angela to a sudden illness that caused her to have catastrophic heart failure. So, this quilt is being made in her memory and donated to 'Because You Matter'. Just looking at the sky blues and sunny yellows makes me think of Angie and her bright happy spirit. 

I finished the quilt top last week and put the border strips on the other afternoon. Now it will be machine-quilted ... my goal is to have the quilt complete and ready for shipping by the mid-May.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Cascade - Maryanne O'Hara

Maryanne O’Hara is a new author to me. I came across her book titled Cascade during a late winter foraging trip to my little public library. What I found in this book was a story of a marriage of convenience that unravels as a small town grapples with its almost certain demise. The story of the destruction of the town is loosely-based on the Metropolitan Water District’s struggle in the 30’s to deal with Boston’s evermore demanding need for fresh clean public water. The result became a push to acquire lands in the central part of Massachusetts and the flooding of those lands that created the Quabbin Reservoir. 

In O’Hara’s book the Quabbin becomes the Rappahanock and her fictitious town of Cascade is a compilation of several actual towns that were razed to create a massive reservoir for Boston’s need. Set against that backdrop, enter Desdemona Hart, a young artist and the daughter of one of the artistic forces within her hometown of Cascade. Desdemona is the child of actors and has received an arts education that includes being front and center in her father’s Shakespearean theater during her early years and going to college to receive a fine arts degree. She’s painted in Paris, won art awards at her college in Boston, and is producing new art at a pretty steady pace. 

When her father becomes ill and the theater begins to fall into decline because of the Great Depression, Desdemona returns to Cascade to care for him. Finding the finances in horrid shape, she accepts the attentions of the local pharmacist. He’s a nice enough guy, but his dreams and goals are far from what Desdemona has envisioned for herself and her art. Setting her dreams aside for the sake of her father, she agrees to marry Asa Spaulding, move to his comfortable farmhouse on the edge of the village, and settle into the life of a hausfrau. One can only imagine the frustration, right?

When a young Jewish artist, the son of  a local itinerant merchant comes to town, Desdemona makes an innocent connection over one of her canvasses. That relationship will have dramatic consequences for her marriage, her art, and the future of the town. She will find in her relationship with Jacob Solomon a muse and a romantic push to confront the poor marriage she’s made and the sad repression of her own strengths as a woman that needs to control her own destiny. 

This was a great read … it’s about promises we make out of love that come back to haunt, prejudices that can taint our lives, roles in marriages that can stifle one’s true self if they’re allowed to, and strength to work through tough social norms and find one’s true place in the world. 

I look forward to other titles from this author.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania

The story of the sinking of the Lusitania has fascinated me for a long time. This latest book by Erik Larsen was a complete submersion into the history of the incident of German aggression against American citizens and shipping that decided the United States leadership's step away from isolationism and forced the US entry into World War I.

What this book does better than any other recounting of the sinking of Cunard's luxury liner is put a human face on the ship's manifest of passengers while also painting an incredible picture of the British government's communications intelligence and the German government's aggressive U-boat campaign to disrupt all international shipping in the seas that surround Britain and Ireland's shores.

Into this dangerous environment, Cunard continued to sail its civilian transport liners. To boot, some of the ships' holds were taken up with ammunition and weaponry that were to serve the British war effort against Germany. People, blithely off for a visit with relatives or traveling for specific business, were placed in the delicate position of being deemed party to aggression against Germany. Britain's code breakers knew of increased U-boat surveillance of the seas around England, but did nothing to communicate the danger to the civilian ships passing through the region. They feared discovery by German counterintelligence. British government policy blatantly ignored the need to escort civilian ships to the point that one becomes convinced that the leadership was aware that collateral damage would occur and hoped it would bring the US into the war as an ally sooner rather than later.

The Lusitania, cruising into the waters where U-boats were preying on all forms of ships, made a drastic encounter that, with one perfect torpedo hit, caused the ship to sink within thirty minutes of the strike. Imagine almost two thousand people moving through the ship to attempt to get to life boats. Imagine life jackets that have not been demonstrated for passengers being donned improperly. Imagine a massive ship that begins to list to one side, thus incapacitating the life boats all along that side. Imagine a crew that is ill-trained for launching the remaining life boats. Imagine the disaster.

This book was a real page-turner. Larsen followed several passengers on their voyage, the captain of the German U-boat that sunk the Lusitania, several of the British intelligence officers, and Woodrow Wilson, as he absorbed the ever-increasing aggression of the German navy against American ships and citizens.

Larsen puts a number of faces and lives front and center that tell the story of the Lusitania in a far more interesting and gripping fashion than any history book that I ever used to understand the naval disaster and how it brought the US to the brink of war.

A really good book that I highly recommend for anyone hooked on history ...