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Upon Inheriting Books

I recently inherited some old family books. My Aunt who knows I run a little book store, gave them to me to sell: An old book of Plato, selections of Cicero and speeches by Burke. Nothing I was interested in reading myself anytime soon and so I began my assessment of the books. A completely economical glance- at first.

But when I touched them I felt touched by something. Nostalgia? Timelessness?  I  handled the old bindings, opened the copy of Plato and found my Great Aunt’s name inscribed in the front. Old catholic school cursive, similar to my grandmother’s and my mother’s. Workmanlike, neat, but not showy. My Great Aunt came back to me, her amazing jewelry, large rings set with semi-precious stones, gold bangles, plated brooches and an elegant voice to match one that cracked every now and then, deepened with age. Besides the jewelry I remembered the subscription to national geographic she bought my family one year and how I had consumed them. Oh, She was exotic! Beautiful- the picture of sophistication.

Aside from the inscription the interior was clean no marginalia I thought, too bad. How strange to hold one of her books. what other books did she read, enjoy? I had no idea.

I then opened Burke and found my grandfather’s name inscribed inside. As exotic and free as my Great Aunt was my grandfather was familiar and solid. Nostalgia swept over me and regret. Regret for not paying more attention when I was younger!  I tried hard to remember my grandfather’s house. More importantly, I tried to remember his bookshelves. I couldn’t.

But his desk came back to me, filled with papers, rubber-bands, paper clips, bills, a letter opener, an old hole puncher. His black, metal wastebasket that faithfully sat on the floor, materialized in my mind. When I visited, he would hand me some old recycled paper from that bin and tell me, go write! and I’d write. If I got a sheet of paper, I’d use his old typewriter which sat on his dining room table. If it was just an envelope I’d use his red, eraser less pencils.

What books did he enjoy? I don’t know. I remember his old chair and footstool in the corner of the living room, there he would sit, with his reading glasses on, and read the paper and his magazines. He was quite the correspondent. Writing letters to the editor often and he would send me clippings of articles he thought I would enjoy. (Mostly about horses since I was rather horse crazed.) I looked down at his signature again, So much personality and soul remained in those markings!

These unassuming texts had brought such depth to my childhood memories and startled by how much came back to me, I set them down.  Although I probably will end up passing them on, receiving them was a gift. Like finding a lost postcard in the mail from a long ago traveled journey.  

-Mrs. Karl Cooper, Jr.

Spiritual Reading for Young Children

 

The Song of Three Holy Children Illustrated by Pauline Baynes: 

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Renowned artist Pauling Baynes, Who is well known for illustrating the Narnia Books and The Hobbit also  illustrated The Song of the Three Holy Children from the book of Daniel. It is a beautiful book, thoughtful and meditative. The song, “O ye Heavens, bless ye the Lord; praise him, and magnify him for ever.”rings out again and again yet each time it seems anew as the text and illuminations inform each other page after page. The illustrations are intricate and the book has a rather serious tone to it that children appreciate.

Small Rain Selected by Jesse Jones and illustrated by Elizabeth Jones 

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Small Rain is a book of traditional prayers and selected verses from The inestimable King James Bible. The verses are beautiful, the language is high yet the  illustrations are cutesy. The combination works surprisingly well.

Manner’s in God House and My First Missal

Manners in God’s House is a classic. It explains the concept of reverence and its importance in God’s house. It also gives concrete examples of reverence, rules that we should emulate when visiting Christ our King. It is a simple book  instructive but not too preachy. The illustrations are endearing and well done. My First Missal is the second part of the book. It is a Traditional Missal for the Extraordinary Form. It illustrates each stage of the Mass and explains what is happening, comparing the Mass with parts of Scripture. My children love this book and it is in their little “Church Bag” every Sunday.

-Mrs. Cooper

The Drama of Decluttering Books

Any book lover will agree, books are hard to part with. We have a certain attachment to unread books, read books, half- read books, beloved books, good books, okay books, books that have that amazing paragraph, chapter, sentence, books that speak to us not so much in perfect prose but in the dovetailed ideas presented within its bindings.

I recently read an insightful article on Kon Marie and The Heartbreaking Difficulty of Getting Rid of Books much of it resonated with me. It delved into the heart of the problem of simplifying a library:

“A book can wait a thousand years unread until the right reader comes along,” said the critic George Steiner, and that’s true. The good ones are incantations, summoning spells. They are a spark, a balm, a letter from home. They contain demons, gods in a box. They are tiny rectangles with the whole universe packed in.

It is so difficult to part with these bound pieces of paper because they are more than just paper, they are microcosms! Each book seems a literary miracle to us. That it should ruminate in the maker’s mind for years, be written down, revised, edited, printed, (if lucky enough) published  and then finally somehow find its way, through who knows how many hands- to us! No wonder decluttering books is a painful process!

But it is necessary. Books maybe be microcosms, incantations, but gathered together they build a whole, a library. Such a living organism needs to be reevaluated from time to time, aired out to avoid stagnation (Otherwise it would be just another hoard and we book lovers selfish dragons.)

As a mother, I assess my children’s library often, is it meeting their needs? Have they outgrown the books? Do we need to replace or repair beloved but tattered titles? Are they being fed quality? Are there gaps in the collection?  (Spiritual reading should not be overlooked, even – especially in a children’s library. I find that this is too often the case.) Children grow quickly! Their minds and needs change, are we keeping up?

I also need to discern my needs and my own library. Am I inspired, comforted, and informed by what’s on my shelf? Or are there dead spaces? books that once spoke to me but I no longer have a need for? Are there books that never spoke to me but I keep out of mere pretense? old textbooks? We will always have our favorites and there is no need to let those go. And it is always nice knowing that there are books on shelf for when the time comes. However, there is nothing like a thoughtful library, curated to truly meet our needs for today. This is what we should ensure.

Much like a garden,  libraries need to be cultivated,  trimmed in some areas so that the whole can flourish. Deadheading is the term gardeners use. The simple technique of pinching off old weathered blooms to make room for new ones. It makes all the difference to a rose bush. It makes all the difference to a library. Yet we will  encounter the same problem as the gardener: should I trim this autumnal bloom? Just past its prime? or leave it for another day? It is still blooming though petals bruised and dogeared. It is up to us to determine when the book should move on. But rest assured, after all the work of sorting and letting go of books, it is exhilarating to find empty shelf space, room, glorious room! For those books that have been calling our name. Who knows? They could be life-changing.

-Mrs. Cooper

 

How To Style Your Bookshelves

 

Step 1. Empty bookshelf.

Step 2. Dust books and shelf.

Step 3. Put books back on shelf.

Step 4. Do you have  lonely, empty space on the shelf?  An easy solution to this problem (it never fails) –  a trip to the bookstore!*

Step 4. Fill in empty slots with new books.*

Step 5.  Let your wolfish eyes select the perfect title from your now stunning bookshelf. Sit back and read.

*one may also buy a cat, which also fills in gaps quite nicely (as pictured above) but most people find more books to be an easier solution.

*or new cat.

 

 

A Book Review: The Gulag Archipelago Authorized Abridged Edition

It is incredible what Solzhenitsyn has done! Compiling this book bits and pieces at a time, in secret, never actually seeing his work as a whole. This is the first of its kind! It is not just a history or a catalog of crimes against humanity it is a mediation on the human soul its light and darkness. Solzhenitsyn is a purist and his writing has forever changed my own style. His words his stories will forever be with me. Please read!:

The Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn is like no other book. He is right when he claims this to be the first of its kind an experiment in literary investigation.  What did I expect when beginning this book? A list of crimes against humanity, a memoir of suffering and trials, a catalog of pains for posterity’s sake. Yes, this is what I expected, as opened the book: a grim work of non-fiction one should read to be ready, forewarned, prepared – it could happen to you! 

The book is all of that but it is also much more. It is grim, at parts unthinkable but it is not unrelenting. It delves into man’s heart and faces it in all its light and darkness. It condemns evil yet it rejoices in the refining fires of suffering, of prison itself! It reads like a story, but it is also a history, a documentation and tribute to those who suffered under the Soviet Regime, certainly it is an exploration in journalism.

Solzhenitsyn’s writings reveals the power of memory, literature, poetry and Rosary beads made from dried bread.  I will never look at a book in the same way after reading about the joy one  prisoner had when given a book to read. How he proceeded to memorize as much as he could before the treasure was taken away. The prisoner later attributed his sanity to that book! I will l never look at a poem in the same way either. For imprisoned men became imprisoned poets, composing and memorizing their compositions meticulously, methodically line by line for lack of pen and paper. How many poets died there? How many died with unheard beauty metered in memory ? And humbled, I finger my glass rosary beads with greater love and tuck it into my pocket with greater care.

It is incredible what Solzhenitsyn has done, writing this book in secret, never actually seeing his work in one place. Its publication is a literary miracle! Horrors fill these pages, but not despair. Solzhenitsyn shares the stories of thousands of humans in hope that they will live on somehow. And they will. These stories will forever be with me.

-Mrs. Karl T. Cooper, Jr.