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The Beauty of Books

I love selling books, listing new books, smelling them, stacking them up on my desk as I write their summaries and learn more about their authors. I love it when an old note falls from the pages, a scrap of paper a business card or pressed flower. I love getting orders and carefully packing them up to be shipped off to their new homes.

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Some have gone to libraries, some were anonymous donations to universities, others were birthday gifts, Christmas gifts, Easter gifts, books that people have been looking for for years and have been thrilled to find at my store. I love sending off the prayer books, rosary booklets and especially Roman missals and thinking of the prayers that will be learned or enhanced because of them.

Some people are surprised that I run a little bookstore and they ask me if they sell and the answer is, yes, books sell. But more importantly they speak. Books are perfect little vessels of the printed word. The bound book is all elegance, unassuming, practical, and yet alluring. They are superior to ebooks, kindles, and blogs not because of nostalgia or sentiment but because of their inherent beauty, their  physical accessibility. This will always be the case. When the first book binder painstakingly bound the first book, the written word, betwixt the pages, had found its true home.

-Mrs. Karl T. Cooper, Jr.

 

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Quick Bedtime Stories For Toddlers

Here are some books I turn to when bedtime is running late. I enjoy reading them and they are always well received.

Pat the Bunny

Pat the bunny is such a classic. One that I did not grow up with and was happy to discover with my first toddler. It’s an Interactive book that maintains a certain simplicity and elegance. Children love it and it’s fun to read. My favorite page is the little book within a book.

Time For Bed

A sweet rhyming goodnight story. Peaceful and soporific. Jane Dyer’s illustrations are beautiful.

 

Little Donkey Close your eyes

Another rhyming goodnight story, this one is by the beloved Margaret Wise Brown. It is similar to Time for Bed in it’s lulling verse and tender illustrations. A cozy read.

Each Peach Pear Plum

Here’s another interactive book, it’s an eye spy in verse. The rhyming makes it easy to read out loud and children love finding the different fairy tale characters on each page.

Fierce Bad Rabbit

Beatrix Potter’s Fierce Bad Rabbit a concise cautionary tale of a very naughty rabbit a bedtime story for when brevity is key.

-Mrs. Karl T. Cooper, Jr.

What’s On Your Nightstand?

Fast Food Nation  by Eric Schlosser is an amazing read. While I don’t agree with many of his solutions, the terrible and largely unforeseen consequences of Fast Food and Big agriculture are brought to light (and it’s not just about health concerns). Like it or not, the fast food industry has changed the way we farm, eat, advertise and shop. Throughout the book Scholosser seems to be pushing for unions and more government regulations to solve these problems  but in the end it’s about getting people to opt out on a large scale.  It’s informative, gripping, disturbing and yet he also maintains a sense of humor- Investigative journalism at it’s best.

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The Lost Traveller by Antonia White.

I’ve read her first book Frost in May last year and found her storytelling simple and completely engrossing. The second book, The Lost Traveller, is just as engaging and accessible as the first, the characters absorbing and writing clear. I am waiting for the heartbreak though. You sense a tragic tone from the onset.

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I’m also reading (thoroughly skimming?) Nourishing Traditions, rereading Woods Etc., avoiding journaling and in denial about my lack of interest in Theodore Roethke’s  poetry, despite my love for his poem the Root Cellar.

My husband’s nightstand, however, remains focused and avoids such disillusionments:

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What’s on your nightstand this month?

Your Beads

I found your Rosary

in the children’s room

Lying there between

A.A. Milne and Madeline.

Yesterday it got mixed in the laundry

It scraped the washer’s insides

As I slid it up to  kiss and slip it

In my apron’s pocket.

At night you ask

Where’s . . . 

And I reach out my hand to you,

Extending her mantel,

Here.

knit brows smooth a bit

and we begin again,

rose after rose forming a crown

studded with chants:

Salve Regina 

(You know it better than me. )

and then our litany

We finish at the cross.

Tired from contemplation,

you set down the beads.

-Mrs. Karl T. Cooper, Jr.

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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

 

A Review: “Life Changing Magic” & “Absolutely Beautiful Things”

 

 

Like many others, I found the method and philosophy laid out in Marie Kondo’s book The Lifevchanging Magic of Tidying Up (which I read last year) compelling, even exhilarating. I could not sleep the night after I discarded “dead weight” clothing and organized my drawers the “KonMari” way, charged with the energy of the project.

This year, I read a very different book about interior decorating: Absolutely Beautiful Things by Anna Spiro. Two books could hardly be more different in design. The Lifechanging Magic: compact, pure text, generous white space, a softly colored cover. Absolutely Beautiful Things: coffee table dimensions, gorgeous full pages of photographs, pull-quotes and lively fonts. This difference in format reflected a difference in practice. Marie Kondo inspires many to minimalism. Anna Spiro unapologetically celebrates maximalism. Though not illustrated, The Lifechanging Magic of Tidying Up conjures images of muted, neutrally-toned rooms and simplicity of furnishing, perhaps with a touch of living greenery incorporated. The pictures in Absolutely Beautiful Things show layers of eclectically blending objects: vivid pink candles, stacks and shelves of mixed-size books, and piles of “divine cushions” in varying patterns of fabric. In a Marie Kondo room, you might contemplate an orchid. In an Anna Spiro room, your eye could wander through mazes of color and texture. In fact, color is a topic Spiro excels in discussing. The wonder of blue and white, light pink as a perfect background for anything, pink itself as the “navy blue of India.” When I read Anna Spiro, I think of India. When I read Marie Kondo, I think of Japan.

 

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Where the two agree however is in the basic principle: have nothing in your house, in your space, that does not spark joy. There is really nothing in Anna Spiro’s philosophy of beauty that advocates multiplying objects for multiplicity’s sake. The multiplicity is for the joy of it. And Marie Kondo herself doesn’t equate the paring she methodized with minimalism. Each person will have an individual “clicking point” at which the amount of stuff they own will feel right.


One of the deepest insights in Anna Spiro’s book is in her understanding that neutral tones and color are not enemies but rather complement each other like lovers. As I look up from my screen, lavender daisies and ferns against a stained-wood window frame with the deeper greens of late-spring woods beyond prove her point.

Beauty has many manifestations. My personal preference in furnishing is toward maximalism (especially when it comes to filling bookshelves!). But a “bright and colorful” maximalism has no more room for “dead weight” objects than the sleekest minimalism. And neutral tones and colors can live happily together, whether that means a single pink flower in a vase of pussy willows against a bare and neutral room or a riot of cushions on a sedate sofa. The KonMari principles we associate with spareness are generous enough to provide a foundation for the most cornucopian melange

The differing visions of interior beauty offered by Marie Kondo and Anna Spiro remind me of the differing literary visions of two of my favorite novelists. But that perhaps will be the topic of another post.

 

– Mrs. Aldertree