Category Archives: Books

Those From Away

IMG_8026In Maine there are two classes of people—natives and those from away. As is the case with many rural states, in Maine there is a tension between these two groups. The natives sometimes resent those from away, who are often more affluent and bring new and outlandish ideas to the state. The latter was especially true in the 1970s, when hordes of young people came here to go “back to the land.” It has also happened more recently with the foodie movement, where so many chefs and cooks have flocked to Maine that many places—especially Portland—have developed quite the foodie reputation.

Those from away often feel as though they will never truly belong, no matter how long they live here, no matter how hard they might work for their communities. A friend of mine once asked in frustration, “How long do I have to live here before I’m accepted as a native?” I wisely refrained from answering. To qualify as a Maine native, you have to go back at least two generations. As Mainers like to say, just because the cat had kittens in the oven don’t make them biscuits.

My husband and I are natives, and we both go back at least five generations. Maine is in our blood and in our bones. We have a history with the state, and this is reflected in the way we speak, think, and even dress. (Oh, yeah! We dress like a couple of Mainers, that’s for sure.)

As natives, Clif and I believe that those from away bring a much-needed vitality to Maine. Any state, any country that is closed becomes inbred, both literally and figuratively. Nevertheless, we understand why there is resentment. To someone who has sold a house in, say, Massachusetts or New York or even New Hampshire, houses in Maine are quite the bargain. For Mainers, not so much, and in some coastal communities, people can barely afford to pay taxes on property that has been in their family for several generations.

Several years ago, I was at a gathering where those from away commented gleefully about how unsophisticated the Maine food scene was when they first moved here.  One woman observed, “Mainers didn’t even know there was such a thing as square plates.”

This might be true, but I winced a little when I heard her say that. Did she really have to speak so condescendingly and unkindly? Of course not.

Fortunately, at least with the people I know, this attitude is rare. Most people from away come here because they love Maine and its unpretentious ways. They rejoice in not having to keep up with the Joneses or anybody else. Often those from away become very involved with their communities, donating time, energy, and money  to various organizations.

Recently, I read a book called The Hollow Land by Jane Gardam. It’s set in Yorkshire, England, and the interconnected short stories revolve around natives and those from away. Over a span of twenty years, a Yorkshire family forms a tight bond with a family from London. The London family rents a house called Light Trees from the Yorkshire family, and while there are tensions at first, they are soon smoothed over by the children, Bell and Harry. Bell grows up to have a child of his own, and at the end of the book there is a conversation between, Anne, Bell’s daughter, and Harry, who is considerably younger than Bell. They are discussing the possible sale of Light Trees and whether people should stay put.

Harry states, “We always knew we didn’t own it [Light Trees]…. Maybe people should stay where they were first put.”

Anne replies, “You great daft thing…What sort of a world would this be if people had stayed where they was born? What sort of a country this? There’d have been no Vikings bringing bees and honey…and no Celts with bronze and jewels and no Romans fixing up roads and laws and no Saxons with books and paintings…”

What sort of country, indeed? And what sort of state would Maine be if people had stayed put? As a native Mainer whose long-ago ancestors didn’t stay put, I can emphatically agree with Anne’s sentiment. Maine would be a much poorer state without the influx of those from away.

 

Louise Dickinson Rich: The Virtue of Being Useful

IMG_7289Lately, thanks to my friend Mary Jane, I have been on a binge of reading Louise Dickinson Rich, whose We Took to the Woods was a back-to- the-land anthem well before the 1970s, when the movement became a trend in Maine. (And what a welcome trend it was. Thanks to all the young people who moved here in the 1970s, we have a flourishing organic gardening community that nurtures young farmers.)

In We Took to the Woods, Louise Dickinson Rich wrote a meandering but lively account of living in the backwoods of Maine with her husband Ralph Rich. Conditions were basic—no running water, no electricity—and money was often tight as Rich and her husband scrambled to earn a living through writing and various jobs associated with the backwoods. What comes through in We Took to the Woods is not only a zest for life but also a great desire to be useful.  Living as she did, with her husband and children, Rich felt that she was essential to the well being of her family, that her work and effort, along with that of husband’s, kept the little family afloat.

After reading We Took to the Woods, I wanted to learn more about Louise Dickinson Rich. Therefore, I turned to Alice Arlen’s biography of Rich—She Took to the Woods—where Arlen not only writes about Rich’s life but also includes some of the author’s essays and letters.

Louise Dickinson Rich lived a long life—she died when she was eighty-seven—and in a letter to her friend Hortense, she writes movingly about one of the greatest losses that comes with old age. That is, of not being useful anymore. “Growing old is not easy, I have found. I, too, have twinges of regret when Dinah [Rich’s daughter] and her family take off on an expedition leaving me home alone….Alice [Rich’s sister] and I were talking the other day and both agreed that one of the hardest things about being old is that one feels so useless, with nothing to offer. But I guess that nothing can be done about that except to try to learn to adjust and accept gracefully. Which—for me at least—is damned difficult.”

Being useful, much like the freedom to be weird, sounds like faint praise. There are so many other things we could be: beautiful, kind, rich, athletic, artistic, good with our hands, a good cook. If someone said, “Laurie, you are so useful,” I might first wonder if the speaker was being ironic and then wonder if that was the nicest thing that could be said about me.

But if we think about it a little more, it doesn’t take long to realize that while being useful might be a modest, homely virtue, it is indeed a  virtue. When a person is useful it means she is contributing something essential to home, work, or community. She is needed. Her usefulness means the work gets done and because of this there is less chaos, less stress. Being useful often means you can work as part of a team, where even more can be accomplished, especially if others on the team are also useful. (Unfortunately, I have had the misfortune of working on committees with people who, to put it mildly, were not useful. It was a real misery.)

Being useful also brings meaning to a life. I am convinced that one of the reasons why teenagers in this country have such a hard time is that they are not useful, and they know it. They are stuck in a sort of limbo—no longer a child, not yet an adult—with no sense of purpose to order their days. The very rich can have this problem, too, with day after boring day stretching ahead of them.  Is it any wonder that drugs and alcohol are often used to relieve the tedium?

So lets hear it for being useful, and may we be useful for as long as we can.

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Keeping My New Year’s Resolution

IMG_7760We are just two months into 2015, and I’ve accomplished something I’ve never done before—I am half-way through my New Year’s resolution. Normally, my resolutions start out with a bang, and I make a strong showing in January. Then comes the cold of February, and my enthusiasm begins to flag. By the end of the month, as I desperately long for spring, all those lofty goals I made on New Year’s Eve have fizzled.

But not this year, and with any luck, in a few months, my New Year’s resolution will be fulfilled. Readers are no doubt wondering what my secret is, and being a generous soul, I will share it. The trick is to resolve to do something pleasant rather than something unpleasant. If I had discovered this simple trick years ago, I would have saved myself from a long string of broken resolutions and the resultant guilt.

Here is what I did for this year’s resolution. For our New Year’s Eve gathering, I asked family and friends to make lists of best books and movies read and watched in 2014.  This they did, and I resolved to pick one item—either a book or a movie—from each person’s list to read or watch.

I started with a book Clif recommended—Buddy Holly is Alive and Well on Ganymede by Bradley Denton. Clif owns the book, which made it an easy one to get started with. I must admit that I never would have read this book if not for my New Year’s resolution. Clif has a weakness for Sci-Fi, the quirkier the better. Me, not so much. However, I absolutely loved this romp of a novel that is a wild blend of Philip K. Dick, Elmore Leonard, and Loony Tunes. At the same time, the central mother-and-son relationship is warm and difficult and moving. In short, it felt real.  And, yes, Buddy Holly was indeed alive and well on Ganymede.

I was off to a great start, and for my second book I chose one from my friend Alice’s list–-Shores of Knowledge by Joyce Appleby. This nonfiction book couldn’t be more different from Buddy Holly. In Shores of Knowledge, Joyce Appleby explores how the discovery of the new world not only brought ill-gotten gains to European countries but how it also expanded them intellectually. New cultures and new species shook a narrow world view that had been carefully cultivated by the Catholic church. In the Shores of Knowledge,  Appleby draws a line from Columbus to Darwin and in between she fills in with journalists and naturalists and what would come to be known as the scientific community.

Last weekend, I read a book  from my son-in-law Mike’s list—Train Dreams by Denis Johnson. This novella follows its main character, Robert Garnier, who comes of age in the early 1900s in Idaho. In the course of  116 pages, Garnier must cope with tragedy, loss, and the wilderness all twined with a touch of the supernatural. Trains, of course, figure heavily in the story. It’s a haunting tale that somehow manages to be both aloof and moving.

Three books down, one book and two movies to go. Earlier, I made light of this resolution, calling it pleasant, and certainly it is giving me pleasure to fulfill this resolution. But it is also doing something else—broadening my horizons and encouraging me to stretch beyond the books and movies I would normally read and watch.

Maybe, just maybe, even though this resolution is pleasant, it is also worthwhile.

 

 

 

Book Review: Mrs. Appleyard’s Year

IMG_7685I follow a blog called Letters from a Hill Farm, and Nan, the author, writes a lot about the books she reads. Our tastes are fairly similar—we both love Miss Read—and when Nan suggests a book, I take note. Recently she recommended Mrs. Appleyard’s Year by Louise Andrews Kent, and as the title suggests, the book follows Mrs. Appleyard through the seasons—in  Massachusetts and on a farm in Vermont. I love books that do this, and immediately requested it through interlibrary loan, not paying much attention to when the book was written or anything else about it.

This inattention, along with the book’s unique voice, led to some merry confusion. In short, I thought I was reading a novel. Published in 1941, the book begins in January, and lists some of Mrs. Appleyard’s faults—impulsively buying antiques, “a fondness for looking up things in the dictionary during meals,” and telling the same story over and over.  But Mrs. Appleyard is philosophical about her faults. “Since she has had most of her defects for over half a century, she is well acquainted with them. Some of them, indeed, have become enjoyable simply because she has had them so long.”

With nary a plot in sight, next comes February, where Mrs. Appleyard notes she likes the month’s “uncertain temper.” The month brings illnesses that give the young Appleyards time to make homemade Valentines. In February, it is Mrs. Appleyard’s turn to host the Pinball and Scissors club. For this event, so much food is prepared that Mr. Appleyard compares the leftovers to the seven years of plenty in Biblical Egypt. Fortunately, Mr. Appleyard likes leftovers.

By now, I think I’ve made it quite clear that the book meanders, and this is true not only for the months but for time as well. Mrs. Appleyard’s Year moves between the present, when Mrs. Appleyard is in her fifties, and back to when her children were young. This book is so gently paced that it makes a Miss Read novel seem like a John le Carré story.

I almost gave up on Mrs. Appleyard’s Year, but then I came to March and “No matter how often she encounters this month, she doesn’t think she’ll live through it. Sometimes she doesn’t care whether she does.” And I was hooked. Anybody who felt that way about March—surely the longest and dreariest month of the year—deserved more of my time.

I also decided to do a little research about this book, and I discovered that Mrs. Appleyard’s Year really isn’t a novel at all. It’s more like a memoir, or semi-autobiographical fiction, told in third person and written in a wry, humorous tone that reminded me of James Thurber. Some of Kent’s descriptions were so funny that I laughed out loud, and when I read to Clif the episode of the revolving door at Christmas time, he laughed out loud, too.

I also found out that Kent’s pen name was Mrs. Appleyard, and she wrote cookbooks and food pieces for Vermont Life. Through interlibrary loan, I’ve already requested The Summer Kitchen. (Whatever would I do without interlibrary loan?)

Mrs. Appleyard’s Year is not great literature. There is no sex, violence, alcoholism, abuse, or dysfunction. The book is gentle and funny, yet well written and wise in its own way. While I certainly wouldn’t want to turn my back on darker literature—we need writers who examine humanity’s shadow side—I do wish there were contemporary writers like Louise Andrews Kent.

Readers, if you know of any, then please let me know.

Apple Crisp, Tea, A Visit from the Kids, and Book Talk

Yesterday, Shannon and Mike, along with their dogs Holly and Samara came over for a visit. The apartment above them was being sprayed for flea eradication, and they wanted to be away for the worst of it.

How nice it was to have a midweek visit from Shannon and Mike. They helped me move some heavy pots off the steps, and we stayed in the backyard until the damp and the rain drove us inside.

I made apple crisp for our tea, and as we sat around the dining room table on a gray day, we all decided that this was a pretty fine way to spend the afternoon. Whenever we get together, there is always movie talk and book talk. Recently, on Public Radio, I had heard a discussion about books, where The Great Gatsby was pronounced “overrated” as well as “vapid,” and Jane Austen was dismissed as delightful but not difficult. One of the guests, who shall remain unnamed, questioned whether Jane Austen was even great. Jane Austen was, perhaps, too entertaining.

I am a huge fan of both The Great Gatsby and Jane Austen, and I told Mike and Shannon that by the time the show was over, I was ready to put sticks in my ears. What was so disappointing about this show was how glib and dismissive the comments were. Certainly, with any book—no matter how beloved—there is a place for thoughtful, intelligent criticism, but the comments I heard indicated that the guests, as well as the show’s host, had just skimmed over the books and had missed the essential elements that do in fact make these books great.

Mike, Shannon, and I spent a fair amount of time discussing the show and the books. Mike commented on how it didn’t matter if Daisy and Gatsby were vapid, and that might even be the point. I spoke of how the role of money, crushing capitalism, and inequality are themes that thrum through the book. What could be more relevant today?

Essayist and critic Maureen Corrigan, who has just written a book about The Great Gatsby-So We Read On: How the Great Gatsby Came to Be and Why it Endures—perhaps comes closest to getting to the essence of this admittedly offbeat novel. In an interview, Corrigan notes, “It’s not character driven nor especially plot driven; rather, it’s that oddest of literary animals—a voice-driven novel.” That voice being Nick Carraway, the narrator. Corrigan also notes: “Gatsby celebrates the doomed beauty of trying in ordinary American language made unearthly by Fitzgerald’s great poetic gifts.”

Then Shannon, Mike, and I moved on to Jane Austen. Shannon observed that all too often, Jane Austen’s novels are considered light reading. “It’s not fair at all,” Shannon said. “There’s a lot going on, a lot of shrewd, social commentary and a lot about the relationships between husbands and wives, children and parents, siblings, and friends.” Class, of course, is a huge concern in all of Austen’s novel, and “It’s not like we don’t have class issues today,” Shannon went on to say. We certainly do.

I suggested that Jane Austen was in the vanguard of the modern novel and that she led the way for those who came after her—the Brontës, George Elliot, and Thomas Hardy, to name a few. Who comes before Jane Austen? Henry Fielding, Laurence Sterne, and Jonathan Swift, all brilliant in their own, often strange ways, but none of them were such keen observers of human nature, of families and society, as Jane Austen was.

Is it fair to say that Jane Austen was the godmother of the modern novel? I think it might be. Merely entertaining indeed!

A Farewell Party for Lisa Jepson Wahlstrom of Ovation Fundraising Counsel

Pearl Ames, Lisa Jepson Wahlstrom, George Ames, and Billy Wing
Pearl Ames, Lisa Jepson Wahlstrom, George Ames, and Billy Wing

Last night, the library expansion team gave a farewell party for Lisa Jepson Wahlstrom. She is the founder and principal of Ovation Fundraising Counsel, an organization  that works “with nonprofit organizations throughout Maine helping them to increase their fundraising capacity, engage their constituencies, and strengthen their volunteer base.”

For the past few years, Lisa has worked with us on the library’s expansion campaign, and it’s no exaggeration to state that we couldn’t have run a successful expansion campaign without Lisa’s expertise, organization, firm guidance, and good cheer. We have had our ups and downs, but Lisa was always upbeat and encouraging, patiently leading us toward our goal—the addition.

However, the time has come for the expansion team to strike out on its own. As Lisa put it last night, we have about $150,000 left to raise, and we know what to do—more grant writing, more fundraising events, more appeals for donations. We also have a wonderful campaign team, and as we said our sad goodbyes to Lisa, I got a strong sense from the other team members that they would continue to help with the campaign, and a good thing, too. We certainly need them.

Where there is a party, there is food, of course, and the campaign team not only loves libraries but tasty food as well. We put on a pretty good spread, if I do say so myself, and there were lots of yummy tidbits—deviled eggs, artichoke squares, spinach balls, a hot cheese dip, and other good things to eat. I brought my homemade crackers and a rosemary-olive cream cheese spread.

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Joan and Bill Wing generously agreed to host the party at their home overlooking the lake. They have a large living room with a lovely view of the water, and while we ate and talked, the water rippled and sparkled as the sun set.

Naturally, the conversation revolved around libraries—their importance in today’s society despite the dominance of computers, big and small. As I mentioned in a previous post, people are still reading books. The love of story runs deep in our species, and while I hope paper books endure—nothing can replace their feel and smell—I have no doubt that as long as there are people, there will be stories.

And there will be libraries—the repositories of information, ideas, and stories—available to all who live in a town, area, or city. You don’t have to be rich to have a library card. You don’t have to come from a prominent family.  Libraries are for everyone, and as such they couldn’t be more vital to our society.

 

Library Update and a Bit about Book Group

IMG_6576The picture for this post was taken on Sunday, September 14. With all the blue, the library’s new addition reminds me of a huge, very deep pool.

I’ll be biking into town today to do several errands, and one of them will be stopping by the library to see how the addition is progressing. If there are any changes, I’ll take pictures and post them in a day or two.

Last night, I went to book group, where we discussed Louise Erdrich’s The Round House, a story about Joe, a young Native-American teenager, and how he deals with his mother’s rape. (For readers who haven’t read this book, I don’t want to give too much away, but I do want to note that there was a lively discussion about Joe’s solution.)

There were eighteen (or so) of us at book group, and for an hour and a half, we discussed The Round House. There was some disagreement, especially with me as I argued that I thought Joe and his friends were too young to do some of things they did. This was hotly contested by those in the group who have sons. Even though I remained unconvinced, it was fascinating to hear the various points of view.

Also, what a thrill that so many people read The Round House and came to book group. Another example of the power of story and books, which despite what some people might think, have not gone the way of the dodo. Despite all the distractions of modern life, people are still reading books. Last Sunday, on NPR’s Weekend Edition, there was even a piece about the millennial generation—those under thirty—and their love of reading. Here’s how the story, by Lynn Neary, starts: “As it turns out, the generation that has grown up in the age of technology has a fondness for a very old-fashioned habit – reading.” A story to warm my heart, that’s for sure.

But back to book group…the leader—Shane-Malcolm Billings, the adult services librarian at Bailey—is also very important. Shane sets the tone, giving background information about the author, making sure that everyone has a chance to talk about the book, and generally keeping the group on track. His love of books is so strong that it just shines forth, warming everyone in the group.

Last night was the fourth anniversary of book group, and I have been a part of this group from the beginning. Shane compiled a list of all the books we have read in the past four years, and what an impressive list! The titles include The Lonely Polygamist, Cutting for Stone, Great House, Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, When We Were the Kennedys, Home, and The Good Lord Bird.

Many thanks to Shane for leading this group, for all his hard work, and especially for his deep love of books.

A Sunny Day and a Remembrance

Yesterday was finally a warm, sunny day after too many cold, rainy days. From time to time over the past week, we have needed to turn on the electric heat. When the house is only 60 degrees, it is simply too cold for Clif and me.

But all was forgiven on a day when the sky was a cloudless blue, and it was fine enough to hang laundry on the clothesline. It was even warm enough to have lunch on the patio,which is right beside a large garden bed, where I could see that the dwarf irises were starting to pass. However, the flowers still smelled as sweet as ever.

The dragonflies have emerged, and one clung to Temple Dog’s small stoney face. “Come, little mosquito eaters,” I said. “And do your thing.”

Over lunch I perused the newest Daedalus Books catalog. I saw lots of interesting titles—some for presents, some for me. As I spotted one book after another, I was sadly reminded that my friend Barbara is gone, dead for 9 years this spring. Barbara was the one person with whom I could share all my bookish enthusiasms, and I so miss our regular book talks.

Now, it must be noted that I am blessed with a literate family and many literate friends, but somehow Barbara was the one whose tastes almost exactly matched mine. In the catalog, I saw What There Is to Say We Have Said: The Correspondence of Eudora Welty and William Maxwell. We both adored William Maxwell, a legendary editor at the New Yorker and a fine writer as well. And we, of course, admired Eudora Welty. When I came to a section featuring books by Angela Thirkell, I wondered if Barbara had read her. Ditto for The Town in Bloom by Dodie Smith, who also wrote The Hundred and One Dalmatians.

How lucky I was to have Barbara as a friend for so long—12 years, I think. On the other hand, is that all? I felt as though I knew her all my life. One thing is certain, friends like Barbara only come along very rarely.

 

To Portland for a Book Launch Party for Talking Walls

img_5214Last Friday, I drove to Portland for a book launch party for Talking Walls: Discover Your World, written by my friend Margy Burns Knight. (Clif was supposed to go, but he had caught a nasty virus and quite sensibly stayed home.) The party was held at Mainely Frames & Gallery, right on Congress Street, and the whole store was decked out with Talking Walls related displays—from art work by the talented Anne Sibley O’Brien, who illustrated the book, to a mannequin “reading” Talking Walls in the big window at the front of the store.

That Friday was also Portland’s First Friday Art Walk, and Congress Street had the air of a carnival. Lots of people were on the street, and many stores were open, featuring art displays and offering free food. There were even street artists, set up with little stands to display their art. Where else but in Maine would anyone even think of doing this in February? I wish I had had some extra money. I would have bought something from one of those plucky street artists.

I did, of course, buy a copy of Talking Walls, and it was beautifully signed—I mean this literally—by Anne Sibley O’Brien and Margy Knight. This book will go to Sara, a young woman who will soon be having a baby. I have known Sara since she was a little girl. I went to her wedding several years ago, and now I am going to her baby shower. And, as I’ve mentioned previously, when I go to baby showers, I like to bring books as presents.

The food at the reception was made by Margy’s daughter, Emilie Knight and her partner, David Gulak. The food was delicious, especially a blueberry ricotta spread with balsamic vinegar and roasted garlic. Using what I think might be the right proportions, I will definitely try making this spread at home. Emilie and David are starting a catering service called Knilak’s Catering, and their business is so new that it doesn’t have a website yet. However, for information about catering, Emilie can be reached at emilie.m.knight@gmail.com.

Tasty food provide by Knilak's Catering.
Tasty food provide by Knilak’s Catering.

Lots of people came to the book launch party, and many of them were Margy’s friends from central Maine. Books, good food, friends, and art. What a fine way to spend a clear, cold night in February.

I’m going to end this post where I began, with Talking Walls. Here is a quotation about the book from Margy’s website: “Visit walls of joy and of sadness, walls built to protect people or to keep them apart.”

Yes, indeed.

Anne Sibley O'Brien and Margy Burns Knight
Anne Sibley O’Brien and Margy Burns Knight

Reading: The Best of Stillmeadow: A Treasury of Country Living by Gladys Taber

img_4421A couple of years ago, Nan, in her blog, Letters from a Hill Farm, introduced me to the writer Gladys Taber, who was born in 1899 and died in 1980. Not only did Gladys Taber live a long life, but she was also a prolific author who wrote plays, memoirs, and fiction. In addition, she was a teacher and an editor.

Gladys Taber is perhaps best known for the memoirs she wrote about Stillmeadow Farm, a house built in 1690 in Southbury, Connecticut. Gladys and her husband, along with her friend “Jill” (Eleanor Mayer) and her husband, jointly purchased Stillmeadow Farm in the early 1930s. The two families lived in New York City, and they wanted a place in the country where their children could freely play outside on weekends and holidays. Because there had been a murder in the house, the two families were able to buy Stillmeadow below market value. Taber writes, “The previous owner had shot his wife and killed himself….The ghosts never bothered us…They had loved our house, that I knew. And I felt they were happy because we were were giving it life again.” Eventually, after Glady’s divorce from her husband and the death of Eleanor’s husband, the two women lived full time at Stillmeadow Farm, where they grew much of their own food.

I started the Taber oeuvre with Stillmeadow Daybook, and I was immediately hooked. Taber is exactly the kind of writer I like to read—smart, generous, shrewd, funny, and wise. She was someone who appreciated and took solace in the natural word and in everyday things. Taber loved Shakespeare, and she loved to cook and feed her family. (The two interests are not incompatible.) She loved dogs. Finally, Taber had a fine writing style—vivid yet precise—and a fine mind.

Right now I am reading The Best of Stillmeadow: A Treasury of Country Living, a compilation of previous books about Stillmeadow. The Best of Stillmeadow is edited by her daughter, Constance Taber Colby, and the book is divided into 12 sections, with each section corresponding to a month at Stillmeadow. The Best of Stillmeadow starts with a Foreword, which, of course, chronicles how Gladys and Eleanor (she is called Jill in all the books) came to live at Stillmeadow Farm. From the Foreword the book moves to January, the first month of the year, back in the days when even Connecticut had lots of snow and very cold weather. (Taber’s descriptions of Connecticut winters then sound like Maine winters now.)

Here is a description of the comforts of January: “Those of us who stay in the valley make out very well. We build up the fires…and the soup kettle over the hearth makes a pleasant simmering sound….corned beef and cabbage and flaky potatoes cooked in the rich liquid make a handsome meal for anyone….Open a well-done potato and spoon over some of the long-simmered juices, and there you have a dish fit for anybody.”

And much later, in July, here is Taber’s take on squash: “People who do not care for squash are usually those who rely on store vegetables. A crook-necked squash should be picked when it is not much thicker than two thumbs. The skin is pale and waxy, not knobby and mustard yellow. It should be easy to slice with a table knife.”

In The Best of Stillmeadow, I’ve only reached July, when the farm pond is thick with algae and, Connie, Gladys’s daughter, watches with horror as her mother swims in the pond anyway, this pond with “frogs, turtles, waterbugs, and…a water snake now and then gliding along the edge.”

I’ll eagerly keep reading, and when I’m done, I plan on checking out Taber’s Still Cove Journal, which is available at Winthrop’s own Bailey Library.