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books, friends

Books I’ve Kept All These Years

I moved around a lot —more so when we were younger and restless. Six months or a year or two in one place and we were ready to find somewhere else to live.

That changed when our children maxed out at six. We were settled in Worthington, a hilltown in Western Massachusetts, and stayed put for 25 years although we thankfully did move from a cheap, funky rental to finally our very own home we built. Then it was Taos, New Mexico for 11 years, and two years ago we returned to Western Mass., first in a rental and then the home we bought in Shelburne Falls and renovated while living in that apartment.

Nothing like moving, especially 2,400 miles — twice — to keep your belongings pared down. But in all those years, I have held onto certain books. I thought about this today when I was surveying my bookcases, which contain mostly first editions of authors I love and for the most part got super cheap. It’s a hobby of mine.

But here are the ones I’ve kept for oh-so-many years.

FUNDAMENTALS OF POETRY: I bought this slim book, almost a pamphlet really, in fifth grade through my grammar school for a buck and it has every part of speech a wanna be poet would want to know. This is the oldest.

THE YALE SHAKESPEARE/MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM: The book, dated 1923, actually belonged to my seventh-grade English teacher, Mrs. Lima. She held the book while she recited the play from memory, a remarkable performance. I gained possession of the book when my mother found it in a yard sale and mailed it to me, unaware of its significance. Susan Lima’s name is written in perfect cursive inside.

ROOTS AND WINGS/CONCEIT: These were the literary magazines from my college, now called Bridgewater State University. They contain my poetry, from when I was a fledgling poet, and later when I was the editor. My sister, Christine, mailed them to me. I had long ago passed them on, and am grateful she held onto them for me. One of them even has a clipping from the college’s newspaper that has my column: Hot Schmaltz by Ethel Schwartz. I did a sarcastic review of Rod McKuen’s poetry — in poetic form. Funny story there. A bunch of my hippie guy friends were hanging around outside the administration building. They decided the next woman who turned the corner would be named Ethel Schwartz. Yes, it turned out to be me.

KORA IN HELL: I ran into a dear college friend years later in Boston. He gave me this as a gift, one of The Pocket Poets Series. The story of Persephone has always resonated with me.

SOME STAY HOME: Poems published in 1977 by a poet/singer Jim Palana. My favorite is about a woman, Miss Ann Gately and her bike.

ENGLISH AS SHE IS SPOKE OR A JEST IN SOBER EARNEST (ORIGINALLY PLUBLISHED 1883): Another gift from a writing friend, Fred, supposedly one of the funniest books about the English language. Here’s a sample.

Of the Man.

The brain

The brains

The fat of the leg

The ham

The inferior lip

The superior lip

The marrow

The reins.

ARROYO: A slim collection of poetry by three friends I knew in college, Bob Sullivan, Jim Palana, James G.H. Moore and myself (when I had a different last name), plus art by Julie Conway. I see a lot of poetry in these books. I stopped writing that way and eventually found prose. But for my last mystery, Checking the Traps, the victim and one of the suspects wrote poetry, which meant I had to do it, too. To tell you the truth it was fun.

TROPIC OF CANCER/TROPIC OF CAPRICORN/BLACK SPRING: I bought these hard-cover books in Seattle and have brought them along on each move since, a bit of a miracle really.

SPEAKING OF BOOKS: Here’s the link to the ones I wrote … on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Joan-Livingston/e/B01E1HKIDG

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