Posts tagged: books
There is a house down the street from where I live and I often pass it on my afternoon walks through the neighborhood. It is a small white house, a classic Cape Cod, probably built in the lean years before the second World War. There is ivy climbing up the chimney and a tall evergreen tree anchors one corner of the front yard.
Most days, there is nothing about the little house that would draw your attention. It is like a hundred others in the city. But if you pass it on a summer evening, just at the softest part of the day when the sky is darkening to a deep shade of violet but still light at the western edge of the horizon, maybe a few of the earliest stars are already out, it’s possible the front door will be open. And through the screen door you can see into the small living room of the compact house where two baby grand pianos sit side by side, situated so that the pianists can see one another as they play.
I know nothing about the house or the people who live there, but to my way of thinking it is the pianos that tell the story, the way they fill the room, claiming it as a place where music is, or has been, made. When I look into that room I see love. There are people there who love music enough to make it the center of the house.
Once, at the end of a day in Paris, I walked down a narrow street near the Latin Quartier and past an apartment building. A tiny slice of one of the apartments was visible through the open terrace doors and I could see a faded but still elegant armchair, upholstered in a soft blue velvet that was worn in places from years of use. Tall shelves filled with rows and rows of books lined the wall and a lamp cast a soft glow over the chair.
With nothing more than a glimpse into the room I could imagine the person who lives there. I could see him (I don’t know why, but it felt like a man’s room) come home each evening, scan the shelves, select a book and then settle into the chair to read. From the outside, the building gave no clue to its inhabitants. Rows of windows shuttered the lives of those inside, but the love of books, the familiar and satisfying feel of a favorite book in one’s hands, spilled out out through the open door, carried into the night by the golden lamplight.
The peek into those two rooms has changed the way I think about my house. Now, I try to look past the usual clutter, the sleeping, shedding, cats and dog, past the unfinished projects on my to-do list. I focus hard on the way the chairs sit next to the window, perfect for watching the seasons change and the parade of people on the way to the park. I look at the books I’ve collected over a lifetime and the photographs I’ve taken of the people and places I love.
The places we call home say much about us in ways we don’t always appreciate. We focus so much on the superficial—the wreath on the door, the curb appeal, the fresh coat of paint— that we forget that what defines any room as the place we belong has little to do with the decor and everything to do with how we live, and love, in the space.
Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a journalist and travel columnist whose audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of ‘Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons’ and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
In the jumble of odds and ends I carry around in my purse, a mix of grocery store receipts, loose change, lipgloss, hairbands and bobby pins, mints, a small leather notebook and a pen, there is an honest-to-goodness map of the world. And I don’t mean the Google Maps app on my iPhone.
The portable, purse-size Oxford World Atlas was a gift from my daughter, something I asked for last December, when, for once, I had an answer ready when asked what I would like to unwrap on Christmas morning. She bought it, brought it home and put it under the tree and now it is almost always with me.
I pull out the book often and I am never disappointed. In less time than it would take to type in a keyword and track the tiny virtual map on the tiny screen on my phone, I can check the milage from Tokyo to Mumbai. I can, using the graph, measure the distance in miles or kilometers from one side of Paris to the other. I can daydream and make plans. I can follow along with the BBC or NPR news anchors when they’re talking about a drought, or disaster in some distant part of the world. Or, if I’m in the mood for something closer to home, I can look for unexplored places just a day’s drive from my backyard. And it isn’t all maps. At a glance, I can see what the national flag of Luxembourg or Montenegro looks like. I can find the capital city of the Slovak Republic, the population of the Mariana Islands, a list of the world’s busiest airports, the annual rainfall in Rome and even the average income of residents of Berlin.
The information in the atlas is random and immediate. No searching for service or wireless. Just as men and women have been doing for centuries, I open a book and find a place that sparks my imagination. I like the satisfactory sound and feel of crisp, glossy, paper when I turn a page or trace my finger along printed highways, railways and rivers. I get swept away by possibilities and before I know it I’m connecting the map-dots of cities and countries.
I know a few facts may have changed since the book was updated, in fact, I’m sure of it. The world in always in flux. If I need to confirm the data, I do. But, for the most part, I’m sure of what I see. The socio-economic situations, politics and migratory habits of people are constantly changing but, and I find this immensely comforting, the continents, islands and land masses that make up the physical world as we know it are all still, barring any meteor strikes, volcanic eruptions and other cataclysmic surprises before this goes to print, exactly where they are supposed to be. And thanks to my daughter, I’m happy to say they are right at the bottom of my purse, between yesterday’s to-do list, a white shirt-button and my phone.
Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance writer based in Spokane, Washington. In addition to her Spokesman-Review Home Planet and Treasure Hunting columns and blogs and her CAMera: Travel and Photo blog, her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at email@example.com
Each year, after Thanksgiving dinner, some time after the last of the dishes are washed and before the pie comes back out again, I bring up a big handwoven basket from the storeroom in the basement. The basket is the size of a bed pillow, a split-oak rectangle with a sturdy handle, and it is filled with books.
There are one or two that my husband and I brought with us when we married: his old copy of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. My 100-year-old edition of Charles Dickens’ Christmas Stories with A Christmas Carol, a story I’ve read and reread since I first opened the book as a girl. But mostly, it holds an assortment of holiday books we’ve collected since our first daughter was born more than 25 years ago; familiar titles like The Night Before Christmas, The Gift of the Magi and The Littlest Christmas Tree.
Some are old toddlers’ board books, with broken spines and peeling pages, showing the wear and tear of little hands. Others are children’s classics filled with familiar illustrations.
To me, the basket is a time capsule. A record of time spent together as a family and in the company of beloved books and stories. Each year another book is added to the collection. The new book is left propped under the tree late on Christmas Eve and is passed around on Christmas Day before going into the basket and, eventually, after the tree is undressed and all the decorations are put away, back down to the basement to wait until Christmas comes again.
It pleases me to see my grown children sit down and pull out a book when they drop by during the holidays or on Christmas Day when we’re all together. Especially the older books that were in the house when they were babies. I steal glances at them as they read. I like to think they hear, in some shadowy corner of memory, the sound of my voice and the feel of my arms around them as we read together; that they hear again the creak of the rocking chair and recall other rooms in other houses and are reminded of the sweetest years.
So much of what happens during the season is rushed and hurried. So much is new and shiny and meant to be tossed away as soon as the New Year arrives. But the basket, with it’s cargo of paper and ink and memories is evergreen. Like a precious ornament taken off the tree and put away for another day.
Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance writer based in Spokane. Her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Somewhere, at some time, the two became intertwined in my mind. It just didn’t seem right to do one without the other. I ate when I read and I read when I ate.
I remember practicing sounding-out words on the back of the box of Corn Flakes when I was a first-grader.
As a middle-schooler, I loved nothing better than to spend a weekend on the window seat which ran along the long wall of windows in the dining room, with my nose buried in a mystery, a plate of cookies or crackers by my side.
When I got older I would make a pot of tea and pour one cup after another as I turned the pages of thick leather-bound classics. I’m pretty sure I absentmindedly ate almost an entire fruitcake when I read Jane Eyre. Even now, just thinking about Mr. Rochester brings on a curious craving for candied fruit and pecans. And I’m not a big fan.
All this reading and chewing was fine when I was young, but now, well, it just won’t do. I finally realized that my habit of reading while I eat, or, the other way around, often means I take in far more than I’d intended. Just one more page, turns into another chapter. One serving turns into two.
So, I’m giving it up.
It’s funny how things taste when you take the time to savor them. To hear the crunch of celery, taste the burst of sweetness in a slice of watermelon or consider the complex soft-yet-tough texture of a banana.
I’m not a complete stranger to the mindfulness of paying attention to what you eat. I once attended a retreat, as the guest of a friend. I don’t remember a single thing about that Saturday except lunch. We were served a tuna salad sandwich on whole-grain bread and we were asked not to talk during the meal. We were to focus on the food that had been prepared for us. I can close my eyes and see that sandwich, and the dark bread. I can still taste the tuna, and even the flavor of the herbs mixed with it.
The other morning I was up before anyone. I made myself an espresso and a plate of fruit and took it out to the patio to eat. I didn’t take the morning paper with me. I didn’t pick up a book. I left the computer inside.
Looking down at my plate, at the sliced strawberries I’d arranged along the edge, I noticed for the first time how a thin slice of the red berry resembles the interior of seashell. The outer skin is pebbled and gives way to a lighter band of pink on the inside. It is delicate and beautiful
Picking up a blueberry, I bit into it and for the first time in my life, looked at the interior. I was surprised to discover that blueberries are actually green on the inside. Does everyone but me already know this?
It’s hard to break an old habit. Especially when it is wrapped with pleasure. But, I’m trying. I’ll just have to do it one little bite at a time.
Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance columnist for The Spokesman-Review. Her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at email@example.com