A Latter-day Bluestocking

For the love of reading

Month: August, 2011

Joke of the Day

Charles Dickens, a former resident of Lant Street.

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Charles Dickens walks into a bar and orders a martini.  The bartender asks, “Olive or Twist?”

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Read to the end if you want to know what this entry has to do with literature…Maybe.

Chicken fried steak covered with gravy, corn (...

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This all begins with my watching Pioneer Woman on the Food Network.  The cowboys were so cute and her recipe for Chicken-Fried Steak and Gravy made me drool.  Okay, I admit so did the cute cowboys!  Today I Googled “Pioneer Woman” and “Chicken-Fried Steak” and found Ree Drummond’s blog.  I found my recipe.  I began to read.  And then I noticed that she has a tab for Homeschooling.  Now I am not an advocate of homeschooling, not because I think it inappropriate or wrong, but because the people who tend to homeschool are about as annoying as vegetarians.  Those I have come across (which I confess are not many (homeschoolers not vegetarians), so I do apologize now for my opinion) are preachy and tend to be holier than thou and exhibit the “I am better than you” or “I love my kids more” vibe.  And truth be told, I am lazy and am a single parent with a 9 to 5 job and you just make me feel guilty.

I clicked on the tab because 1) I was curious and 2) because I want to help my son do better in school.  I figure where better to get home reinforcement information than from a mother who has taken on the task of teaching her children, right?  So I started perusing English/Literature under the heading Homeschooling Materials with this intention and was waylaid by an entry about a grammar book.  A grammar book that I now want…with a vengeance, My Grammar and I…or Should That Be Me?:  How to Speak and Write It Right by Caroline Taggart and J.A. Wines.

I am a militant proponent of grammar and writing and nothing peeves me more than bad grammar.  I also know I probably make lots of grammatical mistakes and it irks me to no end.  There is nothing more heart-wrenching than proofreading and editing one’s own words and clicking the Publish tab to only find seconds before it goes live that there is a glaring grammatical or spelling error.  In my most humble opinion, the collapse of good grammar began with the advent of e-mails and text messaging (followed by tweeting and Facebook status updates).  The immediacy of the medium has made us all a bit lazy and, quite frankly, I am sick of it.  I yearn for the days when we took our time to write and actually used a dictionary.  But I digress. 

Bottom line:  I need this book on my shelf (next to dictionaries and style guides), for Me, for my Kid, and most importantly for my Sanity.  Oh, and for my Writing too.

Also, I feel I need to apologize to Homeschoolers, the well-written entries on this blog are witty, funny and informative without a hint of condescension.  As for you vegetarians…well, I better get back to what I initially set out to do and discover how to help my kid love reading books and write well.

Quote of the Day: W. Somerset Maugham

Portrait of William Somerset Maugham

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“To acquire the habit of reading is to construct for yourself a refuge from almost all the miseries of life.”  W. Somerset Maugham, 1874–1965

Quote of the Day: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Engraving of American poet Henry Wadsworth Lon...

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“The love of learning, the sequestered nooks, And all the sweet serenity of books.”  Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 1807–1882

Quote of the Day: Coolio

Fantastic Voyage: The Greatest Hits

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“I used to walk to school with my nose buried in a book.”  Coolio, born 1963

Quote of the Day: Anthony Trollope

Caricature of Anthony Trollope. Caption read &...

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“The habit of reading is the only enjoyment in which there is no alloy; it lasts when all other pleasures fade.”  Anthony Trollope, 1815–1882

In Which Henry David Thoreau confirms a place-name

There is a wonderful place in Maine where the loons call and the water laps against the shore, and the smell of earth, pine and cedar permeate the air.  It is a place absent of electricity and plumbing and it is, to me, the best place on earth.  It is the absolute best place to read; whether indoors sitting in front of the large fireplace with the wood crackling, sending up sparks or outside on the back porch with Borestone solemnly rising in the distance, a gentle breeze rippling across the lake, and the promise of a breathtaking sunset.

It is here a few summers ago I decided to undertake the reading of Henry David Thoreau’s The Maine Woods, an interesting read if at times a difficult one.  It is a slow-moving book and took me a good deal of time to complete.  Thoreau’s writing is devoid of poetry and is very matter-of-fact and dry.  Despite this, his descriptions left an indelible hold on me and like those places he describes the book forces one to slow down, to stop and smell the flowers.

One of the things I liked most was Thoreau’s care and attention to detail, painstakingly describing the places, documenting the flora and fauna, and the Native American words for things.  I was delighted to find one of these terms, pokelogan.  There is a spot here that the family have always called pokelogan, a marshy, damp spot awash in lily pads, and occasionally covered in coarse grass where moose have been occasionally spotted.  The origins of the name were sufficiently lost in recent memory (at least to me); that’s what the place was called and I never thought to question why.  As a kid, trying to get the canoe around “Poky Logan”, when the water was low, was near impossible and the word “poky” apt because of the sluggish struggle to paddle through.  I always assumed this was the origin of the name and never wondered who or what “Logan” was.

The words of Thoreau  brought enlightenment, given the following passage:

“They [the moose] were particularly numerous where there was a small bay, or pokelogan, as it is called, bordered by a strip of meadow, or separated by from the river by a low peninsula covered with coarse grass, wool-grass, etc., wherein they had waded back and forth and eaten the pads.”

Of course, I probably could have asked the older generation of aunts and uncles and cousins to find the origin of the place-name but that would not have given me the pleasure of discovering it for myself.  The realization that my great-great-grandfather most likely read the posthumously published (1864) Thoreau tome, and may have chosen to use the native term to describe our “pokelogan” is a powerful one and doubly so because “my discovery” resulted in  feelings of closeness to him despite the span of generations.

The Curious Case of Artemus Ward

Artemus Ward, from book Wit and Humor of the A...

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“The village from which I write to you is small.  It does not contain over forty houses, all told; but they are milk-white, with the greenest of blinds, and for the most part are shaded with beautiful elms and willows.  To the right of us is a mountain to the left a lake.  The village nestles between.  Of course it does, I never read a novel in my life in which the villages didn’t nestle.  Villages invariably nestle.  It is a kind of way they have.”  (Affairs Around the Village Green)

Waterford, Maine

I have returned to the village, Waterford, Maine, in which my grandmother was born and where I lived when I was born.  Albeit, the elms are now gone, a victim of Dutch Elm Disease, but it is still a “small and nestling” place.  I climb the mountain and swim in the lake.  It is a village my family have returned to practically every summer.  My grandmother lived there year-round as does my sister now.  I am drawn to it as a migratory bird is drawn back to its nesting grounds.  It is a place that renews my soul and the one place I truly feel is home.

Birthplace of Artemus Ward (Charles Farrar Browne)

Ever since I could remember, there has been a sign on the common which mentions the founding of the village, when it was incorporated, and the fact that it was the birthplace of Artemus Ward (April 26, 1834–March 6, 1867).  As a snot-nosed kid, this fact did not mean much to me but one day I discovered a book, Works by Charles Farrar Brown, amongst the shelves at my grandparents’ home.  As I was flipping through it I found that the author of the stories wrote under the pen-name of Artemus Ward.  That large house across the common was where this once anonymous person was born.  Funny, who knew?  I hadn’t.

Charles Farrar Browne or Artemus Ward was a humor writer and a very popular one, apparently.  He was widely read in the United States as well as Great Britain and was in England, on a reading tour, when he became very ill and died at the age of 32.  He was one of Abraham Lincoln’s favorite writers and it is alleged that he read to his cabinet one of Ward’s articles before getting down to the business of presenting his Emancipation Proclamation.  Artemus Ward was also said to have inspired his contemporary, Samuel Clemens, better known as Mark Twain.

One of the stories in that book I stumbled upon, “Affairs Around the Village Green”, was particularly interesting because Artemus Ward perfectly describes the place that has meant so much to me.  That the little hamlet of Waterford had changed so little since his time, my grandmother’s time, and my father’s time gave me a sense of continuity and connection, one I could never have in New York.  And one day I will return there for good…it is a wonderful thing!

“Why stay in New York when I had a village green?  I gave it up, the same as I would an intricate conundrum and, in short, I am here.”

Quote of the Day: Artemus Ward

Artemus Ward, from book Wit and Humor of the A...

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“Do I miss the glare and crash of the imperial thoroughfare?  The milkman, the fiery, untamed omnibus horses, the soda fountains, Central Park, and those things?  Yes I do; and I can go on missing ’em for quite a spell, and enjoy it.”  (Artemus Ward, 1834–1867)

In recognition of the fact that I am going on holiday to relax, enjoy family and to READ!

Daily Quote: A poem by Arnold Lobel

frog and toad

Image by justaghost via Flickr

Books to the ceiling

Books to the sky,

My pile of books is a mile high.

How I love them!  How I need them!

I’ll have a long beard by the time I read them.

Arnold Lobel, 1933–1987

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