Posts Tagged 'library'

Becoming a power broker – Alice

After the war [WWI], Alice Roosevelt Longworth would evolve into a Washington statesman. Not limited by a constituency as were elected politicians, she could go anywhere, talk with anyone. Her power came to be greater than any lobbyist’s or social maven because her home was the place to be, to see and be seen, to spill secrets, to meet people, and to broker deals that could not be made in Congress. Alice’s drawing room became a required stop on the path to political prominence.” Stacey A. Cordery, Alice: Alice Roosevelt Longworth, from White House Princess to Washington Power Broker.

Still an interesting read, as Alice’s life takes some pretty amazing twists and turns. Acerbic, witty, a fine hostess, and yet not infallible. Interested in politics until her dying days — and the story is fascinating enough that someone like me (who hates current politics and political ads) could find the rise and fall of different politicians as Alice shows that she never quite got over being a wild child. It was interesting to see how Alice evolved into someone who talked to anyone (Nixon, the Robert Kennedy and JFK, Truman), or who could stridently campaign against a relative (FDR), but still let her only daughter play with his children in the White House. Honestly, she wouldn’t have been easy to live with, but she would never have been boring. So now, for balance, I suppose I should find a good biography of Eleanor Roosevelt.

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Prepping for the Roosevelts

The new PBS documentary by Ken Burns focuses on the Roosevelt family, the presidencies, and the family loyalties (and lack of same) that defined them — from Teddy Roosevelt (26th president) to Franklin Delano Roosevelt (32nd president). To gear up for this, I’ve begun reading a biography called Alice: Alice Roosevelt Longworth, from White House Princess to Washington Power Broker, by Stacy A. Cordery. It’s a page turner. From the wild times of Teddy Roosevelt’s first daughter, Alice, to her marriage (with tribute from foreign dignitaries [Kaiser Wilhelm sent a bracelet with a diamond-ringed miniature of himself] and ordinary Americans caught up in the excitement [a hogshead of popcorn, bales of hay, a railway car full of coal from the United Mine Workers of America]) to her role as independent woman and political power broker.

Through the years, many children have lived in the White House, but only a few got married while their fathers were in office. Alice was modern, always in the news, and a trendsetter, with Gibson Girl style. I’ll be honest — it’s more interesting than I expected. Scandal, infidelity, and the search for publicity before any of our modern divas were born.

The year of the library

At the corner of Church and Graveyard. I’ve been slowly culling my stacks of books, because floorboards are only so strong. I’m trying to limit the book intake by checking out books from the library (I’ve had good luck with knitting books). It gives me a limited view of literature, perhaps (British publications and translations take a long time to get in), but regional authors seem to get first place on the shelves, which I think is a good thing.  I may also explore the eReaders that the library rents, since new print books seem rarer and rarer. But if something looks really good, I’ll splurge and buy it — especially if it has illustrations I want to look at, in addition to a good plot. This isn’t a diet, after all, just an attempt to get rid of books I enjoyed a very long time, but that I do not need to reread. Both Cornflower Books and Dovegreyreader have tempting lovely books that have just come in, but they also have bookreadings of classics that one can find at libraries (and some very good ones too).

I’m checking out different options for listening to books while driving (making a virtue out of necessity). Right now, LibriVox is looking pretty good, since I like Victorian authors, poetry, and other items that are in the public domain. So how about you? Is your house insulated by the bookcases on the walls? Do you collect crafting magazines like I do? Are you the possible despair of everyone who visits your house (one tv and bookcases in the dining room)?

And, most importantly, has anyone read Thomas Pynchon’s new mystery, and is it something I should race out to get? Do your local authors get space in your library, and if so — are there any particular books I should try to get through interlibrary loan?

Ghost story for a cold winter’s night

winterbooThe others have slipped away into darkness.”

Kate Mosse’s book, The Winter Ghosts, is a short read (about 260 pages) — Half ghost story and half historical fiction. I finished it in one day, pausing to knit a row or two on my current project when I got too nervous that things might go badly for the main character, Freddie. The progression from half-heard sentences (or omens) to full discovery, and the protagonist turning his shattering grief from WWI into something with purpose… is handled quite well in this elegant little story. It didn’t suffer from being read on a warm September afternoon. But low lamplight during a blizzard would add to the chill of reading ghostly words.

A library within walking distance

greenbooksandthingsI’ve spent the last few years taking great delight in walking to my local library. But due to scheduled maintenance, I’ve had to drive away from the corner of Church and Graveyard to get to another local branch. I miss looking at the neighbors’ yards:

  • Someone has a quince that I’ve been watching (when do quinces ripen around here?)
  • Another family has netting up, either for batting practice or lacrosse
  • One gardener set up a contemplation nook (good idea — maybe I should do the same)

Instead, I’ve gotten to look at a strange neighborhood (grand houses, a grocery store, large elementary school). The gardens seem less personally fought for by the inhabitants. And the book selection is a bit …. odd. Mostly it’s self-help, “how to” books, and illustrated books for children. The books on tape selection is improved, so my driving is cheered by “The Cat Who” mystery series.

But I wonder now that I’ve been there — do people in upscale neighborhoods not even use print media except for children’s books? Do I need to get an eReader of some kind because my library will go in this direction? Has anyone made the jump to eBooks? Is it hard on the eyes like working on the computer all day? Are there ways to see color illustrations? Inquiring minds would like to know.

An enclosure around space

The Glass Room by Simon Mawer provides a story of WWII that is difficult to forget. The image of a house built to enclose space is haunting — its inhabitants walk into the unease of WWII and then are enclosed by the events of history. Liesel’s story, and the multiple romantic entanglements between her, her husband Viktor, and their extended group of friends manages to give a view of lives that are messy and interesting, and not so heroic as to be unbelievable. And through it all, the house remains as stolen property, like the lives that were stolen from the protagonists. Things got so messy in the novel, I worried there wouldn’t a close to the book that would leave me satisfied, without it feeling false. I’ll let you read to see how Liesel and Viktor’s story finishes in a tangential way.

Since the house itself was a real one, even though the lives in the novel are very fictionalized, you can walk through the house’s sun-drenched rooms if you visit Czechoslovakia. There’s an article from 2012 here, with some photos of the space. Definitely a modernist aesthetic — and interesting that the house remained through it all and has been restored.

Gates of Ivory – a good choice for travel reading

I rely a great deal on libraries, which leads me to dark thoughts about people who think libraries aren’t relevant or helpful. Every time I go to my branch, I see people looking for jobs online, or kids using the computers to do their homework (or maybe play video games with the sound off). Where do people meet if they don’t want coffee or don’t want to shop for things? How do people find new authors? How do students find research material? How do cooks explore new cuisines without investing in a whole new cookbook? When I was little, the local library even rented artwork for 3 weeks at a time, so people could bring a little culture home with them. I do wonder if other countries have libraries like the ones I’m familiar with [thank you Carnegies for investing in building them everywhere].

Margaret Drabble’s book, Gates of Ivory (mentioned here) has been a lovely book to read while trapped in airports waiting for connecting flights. Earlier in the year, I tried to read The Peppered Moth, but had difficulty enjoying it after the glut of novels set in the Victorian era by modern writers. I do wonder if the author was influenced by the organizational structure of Pynchon’s V.  Sadly The Radiant Way is not available at the library right now, so I’ve settled for another book until I can get The Radiant Way through another branch of the library, so I can see where Alix and Liz meet in the 1950s.


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