Posts Tagged ‘Megan Marshall’

Ok, Wildwood: a Journey Through Trees I mostly read before vacation, but finished on Saturday. Roger Deakin, who died before this book was published, was a fascinating man. He renovated his Elizabethan farmhouse, which was more or less a ruin when he bought it, and was well known for his nature writing. What I most enjoyed about Wildwood is his delight in his subjects, whether the rooks in a nearby wood, the people who love the natural world as he does, artists, trees, hedges — he was apparently insatiably curious about the planet and the people on it and I learned all kinds of interesting things as I read, from how cricket bats are made to where apple trees originated. I found this book while shelf-reading (a project in libraries, in our case undertaken every summer, whereby staff compare a list of books that should be on the shelf to the actual books on the shelf, to check that they are where they should be). It was a serendipitous find of the highest order. I’d like to read Deakin’s other work, if only for the language. Here’s a bit from a chapter on a trip to the Pyrenees:

“We collect sweet, fresh chestnuts, easing them from their hedgehog husks. Following a steep-sided holloway veined with the exposed roots of beech, holly, hazel, chestnut, maple, ash, and oak, we drink from the woodland springs. As noon approaches, crickets begin singing hesitantly, and young lizards venture on to the sunny track.”

Even if I wasn’t already interested in his subject (and I am a little bit tree mad since reading The Hidden Life of Trees), I’d read that all day.

On our vacation to Maine last week — the first weeklong trip the Computer Scientist and I took alone in nearly three decades — I packed only a few books. One I’d been wanting to read for some time: The Peabody Sisters: Three Women Who Ignited American Romanticism by Megan Marshall. I reviewed her book about Margaret Fuller back when I was still writing a column, but this book came to me via my neighbor, who loved it. You may recall I wrote here about her family inviting me to choose books from her collection after she died — this was one of those titles. I’d been waiting for a good time to read it. I figured a week in Maine was a good time to take on a meaty history book and it was. I really thoroughly enjoyed it, both because the Peabody sisters are fascinating women and because I love learning about the history of New England in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Marshall spent twenty years working on this book, explaining in her introduction that she had to learn to read the sisters’ handwriting and that of their family and friends in order to complete her research. I really respect the effort that went into the book, and the fascinating details of the may interwoven lives the Peabody sisters touched. If you don’t know much about them, the eldest, Elizabeth, coined the term “transcendentalism” before any of the men who later made it famous, and was an incredibly gifted thinker and writer. Her legacy to aAmerica, among other things, is kindergarten. Mary, the middle sister, was a teacher and writer who helped Elizabeth with her work and later, helped her husband, Horace Mann, with his. The youngest, Sophia, was an artist and also married Nathaniel Hawthorne. Marshall brings them and the people they knew to life, illuminating the social, cultural, and religious environment that shaped them and the day to day lives they led. I thoroughly enjoyed The Peabody Sisters and would like to wander around Boston and Salem visiting the places where these fascinating women lived and worked. I’d also like to read biographies of some of the rest of their circle, starting with Horace Mann.

When I was just about finished with The Peabody Sisters we visited Elements, a used bookstore, coffee house and bar in Biddeford (much like Book & Bar in Portsmouth. I was fairly restrained in my purchasing, but I did buy Gramercy Park: an American Bloomsbury by Carole Klein. It seemed to be similar in spirit to Marshall’s book; rather than covering one family’s impact on a period, it covers one neighborhood’s impact on several periods. Klein begins with Samuel Ruggles, who wished to preserve some open space as Manhattan expanded north, and began planning to create the neighborhood with its exclusive park in the center in 1831. By the 1840’s homes were being built around the park. Straight through the 1930s, when Klein’s book ends, a parade of interesting New Yorkers lived in Ruggles’ lovely neighborhood, and many more visited. I enjoyed reading about the many writers and artists but also about people I knew less about, like architect Stanford White and inventor and Cooper Union founder Peter Cooper, critic, novelist, artist Carl Van Vechten (who was a close friend of Gertrude Stein, James Weldon, Langston Hughes, Bessie Smith, and F. Scott Fitzgerald). Again the book made me want to walk the neighborhood — I’ve been to the Strand several times and never realized how close I was to Gramercy Park. Klein wrote several other books that I am interested in tracking down.

My final vacation read was a collection of William Trevor’s short stories, After Rain, that I found on the free cart at work (librarian benefits: we see donations before anyone else does). I’d never read the much acclaimed Trevor but as longtime bookconscious readers know, I enjoy short fiction. This book was a little sadder than I am in the mood for lately — world, local and family events offer enough difficult emotions for the time being. But I persevered because Trevor really is a master at this form. “The Piano Tuner’s Wives” and the title story were my two favorites. The former opens simply: “Violet married the piano tuner when he was a young man. Belle married him when he was old.” The story goes on to tell of the two marriages, “He had given himself to two women; he hadn’t withdrawn himself from the first, he didn’t from the second.” It’s a lovely story.

“After Rain” is set in in a little “pensione” in a small town in Italy where a woman named Harriet visited for years with her parents, and has fled when a relationship ended. In a rain storm, Harriet takes shelter in the “Church of Santa Fabiola” and looks at an Annunciation, “by an unknown artist, perhaps of the school of Filippo Lippi, no one is certain.” When Harriet walks back to her hotel, she is still thinking of the painting: “While she stands alone among the dripping vines she cannot make a connection that she knows is there. There is a blankness in her thoughts, a density that feels like muddle also, until she realizes: the Annunciation was painted after rain. Its distant landscape, glimpsed through arches, has the temporary look that she is seeing now. It was after rain that the angel came: those first cool moments were a chosen time.” Beautiful. And true — I’ve felt that way, where the connection I was trying to make was just beyond me.

The painting Trevor refers to is this one:


Panel, 176 x 170 cm
Duomo, Volterra, by Fra Bartolomeo and Mariotto Albertinelli

I wrote not that long ago about attending a talk at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum about another annunciation painting and buying a book abut the exhibit. On Sunday, just before we moved the former Teen the Elder (now nearly 24) out of his house in Boston, we stopped at the Museum of Fine Arts to see the Botticelli exhibit, which included some works by Fillipo Lippi. I’ve always loved when my reading and life intersect.






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My column ran this past Sunday. I reviewed  Megan Marshall‘s Margaret Fuller: a New American LifeAbi Maxwell‘s debut novel Lake PeopleJack Gray‘s memoir-in-essays Pigeon In a Crosswalk: Tales of Anxiety & Accidental Glamour and Brett Markham‘s The MiniFarming Guide to Composting.

It seems like the Monitor has worked out the paywall issues it was having so here’s the link.

If I hear anyone is having trouble reading it, I’ll post the whole column here.

Heard from someone that indeed they could not take the above link so here is the column:

The Feminist Transcendentalist

Massachusetts author Megan Marshall’s (The Peabody Sisters) new biography, Margaret Fuller: a New American Life, is a thorough and sympathetic treatment of the famed feminist. Even for readers familiar with Fuller, Marshall’s account is engaging. She covers not only the biographical details of Fuller’s life that forged an intellect nearly unmatched in her time, but also Fuller’s relationships – as daughter and sister devoted to pleasing a difficult father and keeping her financially challenged family afloat; friend and colleague to dozens of thinkers, reformers, and writers; teacher and mentor; wife and mother in revolutionary Italy – that made Fuller the complex, fascinating woman that she was.

Though she was often misunderstood, maligned or even mocked in reviews and in private correspondence (even by some of her closest friends and relatives, whom Marshall quotes extensively), Fuller is, in Marshall’s view, a heroine. She influenced history through her groundbreaking feminist work Women in the Nineteenth Century, her series of “Conversations” for women in Boston, and her prolific journalism, which brought observations and ideas from Transcendental New England; the newly settled American West; the prisons, workhouses, factories and slums of New York and industrial England; and Europe’s 1848 revolutions to a wide national audience. With copious quotes and excerpts from Fuller’s books, journals, letters, essays, poems, and articles in The Dial and in New Hampshire native Horace Greeley’s New York Tribune, Marshall presents Fuller in her own words whenever possible.

Marshall believes Fuller was neither as scandalous as some accounts of her life imply, nor as personally free – from childhood to her death at age 40, Fuller was constantly caring and providing for family members, often sacrificing her own health, well-being and happiness to ensure that of others. As Marshall explains, Fuller’s “own writings in the last year of her life show persistent resolve in the face of danger, not recklessness or fatalism, and an immunity to public censure.” You can meet the resolute yet tender Margaret Fuller in the pages of Marshall’s excellent biography.

A novel, a memoir, and all you ever need to know about compost

Gilford assistant librarian Abi Maxwell’s novel is set in the Lakes Region, where she grew up. Lake People is a haunting tale of identity, ancestry, family and belonging. Told from many characters’ points of view over several decades, it’s the life and family story of Alice Thornton, who was found in a canoe as an infant. Like Alice Hoffman, Maxwell’s writing has a fairy tale quality, perhaps meant to make readers comfortable with the improbable number of extraordinary events that happen to Alice as a descendent of the mysterious lake people. The small New England town and its deeply held secrets are reminiscent of Peyton Place, as are the contrast between characters’ public stoicism and private passion and the impact balancing the two has on their psyches. An interesting debut.

Jack Gray grew up visiting his grandparents in Barnstead and first produced “news” in their living room. After UNH he produced news programs in New Hampshire and Boston before landing his current job as a producer for “Anderson Cooper 360” on CNN. His memoir-in-essays Pigeon In a Crosswalk: Tales of Anxiety and Accidental Glamour is an irreverent, profanity-laced look at his career and family, including stories of meeting celebrities, becoming a Twitter star, observing the media, and coming out. The title comes from one of the last pieces in the book. Gray was walking his dog Sammy on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and angsting about his life when he noticed a pigeon crossing the street. He notes, “I’m losing sleep over whether . . . I can sustain a life for myself in New York and there’s a . . . pigeon out here using the crosswalk. A pigeon that seems pretty happy with himself. I am clearly doing something wrong. At that moment I decide Sammy and I will be fine. If that pigeon can adapt and succeed in the big, complicated city, I can too. The bar has been set by a pigeon in crosswalk . . . .” Wise, warm, and often hilarious.

New Ipswich famer, engineer, and author Brett Markham has written The MiniFarming ™ Guide to Composting, part of his series on small scale — as little as 1/4 acre — farming. I’ve looked at other composting books, and this is both a more serious (think equations, formulas, and building plans) and a more accessible guide than any I’ve dipped into. For someone like me, an English major and haphazard gardener, he covers the most basic methods of composting, including my favorite, “lasagna gardening.” For the serious gardening geek or farmer, Markham’s thorough analyses of soil science, anaerobic, aerobic, mesophilic, and vermiculture composting, and biochar are sure to supply answers to the most technical questions. Students and teachers interested in hands-on science would also enjoy this book. Markham believes “. . . composting is accessible to everyone,” and with this book as a guide, that should be true.


Sidebar: Abi Maxwell will read from Lake People at Gibson’s Bookstore in Concord on March 21 at 7pm. Call 224-0562 or visit www.gibsonsbookstore.com for more information.

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My column got pushed back a week, but I’m turning it in soon and it will appear in the Concord Monitor on March 17th. I’m reviewing Megan Marshall‘s Margaret Fuller: a New American Life, Abi Maxwell‘s debut novel Lake PeopleJack Gray‘s memoir-in-essays Pigeon In a Crosswalk: Tales of Anxiety & Accidental Glamour and Brett Markham‘s The MiniFarming Guide to Composting.


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