These Frigates, These Chariots

Guest post by Kathleen Housley

It is a sunny morning in early June. A sabbath calm suffuses the empty Mt. Holyoke campus, the students having left for the summer. Other than a jogger, I seem to be the only one around, sitting on the stone steps of Pratt Music Hall listening to the sound of a small waterfall flowing into a nearby brook.

I am waiting for an old blue van, edged with rust, to arrive from Wichita, Kansas, over 1,500 miles away. Belonging to Warren Farha, owner of Eighth Day Books, any minute now it will chug up to the curb loaded down with the contents of an entire bookstore for Image’s Glen East Workshop.

Unfortunately, Warren will not be at the wheel this year due to another obligation; instead Joshua Sturgill, his able associate, is making the grueling twenty-four hour odyssey to South Hadley, Massachusetts. Because I live only an hour south in Connecticut, I have volunteered to help him set up the store in one day—a job so large it is on par with Hercules cleaning out the Augean stables. [Read more...]

In Praise of the Printed Book, Part 2

By Warren Farha

Guest Post

Continued from yesterday.

An increasing torrent of books and articles reflect on the Internet as The Great Distraction, and I’ve had the opportunity recently to read a few. The first I’ll mention is The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future, by Mark Bauerlein.

Bauerlein is not saying that millennials—youth who’ve grown up in the Digital Age—are less intelligent than their predecessors. He is saying that due to the digital environment in which they live and move and have their being, they are working with a much smaller store of acquired knowledge, contrasting the dizzying quantity of information available online with that which has actually been embraced and mastered.

Bauerlein collaborated with former chair of the National Endowment for the Arts Dana Gioia on the influential NEA reports Reading at Risk and To Read or Not To Read: A Question of National Consequence, which combined careful research and a sense of urgency about the rapid decline of reading in all age groups in the United States.

The omnipresence of screens and immersion in texting and social media have steadily pushed aside time devoted to reading or attendance to serious music, theater, and fine art. Bauerlein warns: [Read more...]

In Praise of the Printed Book, Part 1

By Warren Farha

Guest Post

Note: This post and the one following it have been condensed from an address given by the author.

I’ve been charged today with the task of explaining in some coherent form “why books?”—that is, paper and ink between covers—rather than “books” in some digital format. This is a visceral issue for me and not just because my vocation is the selling of conventional books. It touches me at points of my development as a human being.

The very first book I remember reading is as a four-year-old who could not yet really read, narrating the story as best I could by looking at and interpreting the interspersed illustrations (wood-cut engraving style drawings). It was one of the small bookshelf of books my family owned called The Real Book about the Wild West, by Adolph Regli.

I remember hours lying on our green-carpeted living room floor with this book, in my initial stages of reading. There were of course hours more with this book after I really could read, absorbing the engrossing narratives and unconsciously developing a love for history. [Read more...]

Booked: Reading My Way Back to Faith

I accidentally read my way back to church in graduate school. I hadn’t been any kind of practicing Christian since early childhood, but I’d always been a reader, and in those three years, I read more widely and deeply than ever.

I was in training, an MFA candidate preparing to write the story of me: the coming of age of a Louisiana girl trapped in a fringe group of far-out Christians. It was going to be cool and detached and funny, of course. But something happened. Near the end of my reading list, in my last months of the program, I stopped thinking it was all so funny and started believing.

In my research I’d sought out books of theology and stories of conversion, but in the end, it wasn’t Augustine, Merton or Lewis who convinced me—at least, not in isolation. In classes I was studying film as literature, the New Journalists, short stories and memoirs and criticism, and for the first time in my life, poetry that wasn’t a Shakespearean sonnet.

It wasn’t any one book but the collective impression of all that work that sent me back to the pews, convinced there was something vast and eternal governing all, and yet so near and small as to fit in my palm, in a book, in a wafer of bread. [Read more...]

Books for Holiday Giving

Kudos to the university presses that are publishing books of the soundest scholarship for the general reader: books with the highest production values and astoundingly reasonable prices. Here are two that I recommend for readers on your gift list.

A Spicing of Birds: Poems by Emily Dickinson, selected by Jo Miles Schuman and Joanna Bailey Hodgman (Wesleyan University Press, $22.95).

Did you know that Dickinson wrote 222 poems with references to birds? As the compilers write in their introduction, “Birds are woven through her poems like the string she mentions that ‘Robins steal… for Nests—.’” Dickinson was a sharp observer of birds, and in her poems she often made images for particular species:

“Some keep the Sabbath going to Church— / I keep it, staying at Home— / With a Bobolink for a Chorister—.” Or the phoebe, image of Dickinson’s own timidity: “I dwelt too low that any seek— / Too shy, that any blame— / A Phoebe makes a little print / Upon the floors of Fame—.”

The poems collected here are themselves a treasure. But the bonus is the book’s visual dimension. Illustrations of birds by eighteenth- and nineteenth-century artists comprise the facing page of nearly every poem. These full-color prints make the book luscious to look at. And with every page printed on cardstock (imagine—cardstock!), the book is also luscious to hold. It gives a tactile pleasure that can never be replicated by e-books. Oh, and the book is hardcover, too—giving that wonderful sense of permanence and solidity that paperbacks and e-books can never have. [Read more...]