Time for spring-cleaning.
The basement apartment in which I live could use a deep cleaning: dusting, washing, vacuuming. It’s tidy enough — chaos and I were never friends — but stacks of papers need sorting, bookcases beg to see their occupants removed and the shelves rubbed down with a mixture of Pine-Sol and water, and the dusty, spider-webbed eaves cry out for an invasion from the shop-vac and dust mop.
It was April 5, 1936, Palm Sunday, about nine o’clock in the evening. People were tidying up their kitchens, strolling home from church services, sitting in the local movie theaters, listening to their radios, talking to their neighbors. Just another ordinary spring evening.
What’s in a name?
In You Are A Badass: How To Stop Doubting Your Greatness And Start Living An Awesome Life (Running Press, 2013, 254 pages), Jen Sincero urges readers to leave behind mediocrity, change their desires into decisions, and earn more money in the bargain. According to the advertisement on the book’s cover, You Are A Badass was a No. 1 New York Times Bestseller with over 1 million copies sold.
The first weeks of 2018 have seen some offbeat books shamble across my desk and into my fingers.
First up is John Buchan’s Mr. Standfast, also known as Mr. Steadfast. Buchan, a Scottish novelist and politician who served as Governor General of Canada from 1935 to 1940, is best remembered for his suspense novel The Thirty-Nine Steps, a grandfather in the genre of intrigue. Alfred Hitchcock later made Buchan’s tale of a manhunt, a precursor to “The Bourne Identity,” into a film.
Dreamers and schemers. Andre Michaux and Daniel Boone. Yankees and Confederates. Hugh Morton. The mile-high swinging bridge. Tweetsie Railroad. Singing on the Mountain. Highland bagpipes and Low-Country vacationers. Hikers and hang gliders. Mildred the Bear. Fraser firs and rhododendron. Peregrine falcons and big-eared bats.
For the past two centuries, local historians and writers in England have produced a large number of municipal and county histories, a project formalized in 1899 with the Victoria County History project, a massive undertaking that, more than 100 years later, is still unfinished. These detailed records have proven invaluable for historians and biographers writing on a grander scale, allowing them to compile data and statistics on topics ranging from deaths attributed to the plague to the impact of railroad revenues and services on country life.
In early January, I sat with two friends in a café discussing the New Year. We were all coming off a rough time and were certain 2018 would usher in happier days. Our optimism was running high until we made our way to the deserted lot where my friends had parked their cars. Both of their vehicles were missing, towed away by a zealous, or more likely unscrupulous, wrecking service.
There it stood on a sale table, all 11 volumes lined up tight and orderly as cadets on parade, Will and Ariel Durant’s The Story of Civilization.
The Friends of the Library had slapped a price tag on Volume IV.
“That is the land of lost content,
I see it shining plain,
The happy highways where I went
And cannot come again.”
— A.E. Housman, A Shropshire Lad, XL
Sometimes joy and beauty strike like thunderbolts. One minute we are going about our daily routine, minding our own business, and then bam! Tongues of flame leap into our hearts. The eyes of a barista behind the counter of our favorite coffee shop fork a bolt of lightning in our brain. We round an unfamiliar bend in the road, and some incredible vista of a mountain peak blows us away. We visit a gallery, enter a darkened room, and find ourselves so dazzled by a painting that our feet remained glued to the floor for an hour.