February is drawing to a close. Each day there is more light. Spring is in the air. Today I ordered seeds from Territorial Seed in Oregon. My first draft of federal Income tax is completed. We’re looking to reserve our first get away in March or April, maybe to Virginia, Williamsburg area.
It’s been a dull winter so far. Too many cloudy, rainy days. Cold but not one good snowfall (although there is still time). I’ve endured because of the woodstove and books. Mornings are spent in daily routines, frequently a walk, maybe a little project. But by early afternoon on most days I have a fire keeping me entertained and warm.
I’ve read a mixed selection of books since Christmas. Dickens “A Christmas Carol” was the first. I treasure a 1938 Garden City edition, illustrated by Everett Shinn from our years in Boston. It was delightful. Before the holiday, as we do every year, we watched Albert Finney in “Scrooge.” Then the read. Next up was a gift from our Taylor friends, “Kitchen Yarns: notes on life, love and food,” by Ann Hood. Another good food memoir. Hood learned the basics from her mother and although she’s become a more adventurous cook, she consistently returns to Gogo’s meatballs and chicken salad. Each chapter ends with recipes. I’ll try some.
I decided to read a novel I’d given Diane, “Rattle of the Looms,” by Paul Lavalee. We’d read about it in September when we explored several mill towns in central Massachuttes where Diane had relatives. It traces the lives of several generations of French Canadians who move to the area to work in the mills. Unfortunately there is a minimal about mill life; reads more like a soap opera. It may have been sel-published. There are probably better books about the area.
Like food books, there is always another book about books. I’ve read many. I had ordered “ A Passion for Books: a book lover’s treasury” by Harold Rabinowitz. It’s a collection of essays, poems, even cartoons about books, bibliophiles, and libraries. I’ve written about my personal “passion” for books, so easy to collect, so hard to part with them. I am not alone, although many of the collectors described in “Passion” dealt in rare books, first editions, special collections. Rosenbach from Philadelphia was featured. How do you store and organize your collection? Do you lend books? Have you read every book you own? Throughout the read, I heard Diane, “You need to get rid of all those books.” (I’ve started, but slowly).
A reread was “On the Rez” by Ian Frazier. I may have been drawn to it after the Washington D.C. confrontation between the High School student and the Native American activist. Much of the story is the friendship of author Frazier with an an Oglala Sioux, Le who is usually broke, borrowing money, sometimes drunk, into crazy schemes. The Rez is Pine Ridge in South Dakota, poverty, unemployment, alcoholism, car accidents are common. We learn a little about Crazy Horse and Black Elk (famous Oglala) and modern Native American activism in the 70s. Frazier attempts to understand the culture.
As a follow up I read James Fenimore Cooper’s “The Last of the Mohicans.” A classic that I thought I’d read but maybe not. Diane had bought the copy due to the New York State setting but didn’t get too far. It is a difficult read, flowery language, unusual vocabulary, multiple names for people and places and natives who frequently speak in metaphors and parables. But I persevered. The plot is the capture of two British officer’s daughters (Cora and Alice) by the French allied Hurons. The Scout, Hawkeye (in other books Natty Bumpoo) his Native friends and an officer in love with one of the girls attempt a rescue. If the Hurons are pro-French, the Mohicans are pro-British and the Delawares seem to sit the fence. There is a lot of killing, slaughter, scalping, and the feisty daughter Cora and the son of the Scout’s friend, Unas are killed in the end. It was a surprising read but I’m glad I did. Need to rewatch the recent movie.
I don’t know the source of my next read but it was a disappointment. Several times I was ready to give up but didn’t. “How the Irish Saved Civilization: the untold story of Ireland’s heroic role from the fall of Rome to the rise of medevial Europe” by Thomas Cahill. He writes about the fall of Rome ( speculations about the cause) and the invasion of the barbarians. A threat to the classical world heritage. But finally to the rescue, along come the Irish (actually Irish monks), monasteries, reading, copying, and preserving the classics of Greece and Rome. They spread this learning throughout the emerging Europe. Interesting but not a very good read.
My eight book since Christmas was “Catfish and the Delta: confederate fish farming in the Mississippi Delta” by Richard Schweid. The author lived in the Delta for months, meeting people, learning about the culture but focused on the catfish industry in the 1990s. One of many books I’ve read about a particular food. Of course I’ll be looking for catfish to fry in the coming weeks. Schweid has a reporter’s style, similar to John McPhee who I wrote about recently. He explores every aspect of the industry which replaced cotton as a primary Delta product. From financing, raising, harvesting, processing, marketing he explores every aspect of the catfish industry including it’s ups and downs. Lots of interesting details like how you can get cut handling the fish. Race is another theme. White farmers own the catfish ponds and processing plants; Blacks work at low paying jobs that produce the catfish. Ironically Blacks also eat a lot of catfish. Schweid explores housing, the segregated educational system (private academies for Whites after “Brown”), the blues, B.B. King and others (which sometimes brings the races together), mosquitoes, Delta pride and self-sufficiency but a declining, mostly poor population. Schweid can the catfish save the Delta?
I know it’s days, weeks until Spring. It’s warm today but 3 o’clock. Time for a fire, new book, and glass of wine. I’ll finish taxes tomorrow or the next day.