Thursday, February 5, 2009

So this is the little lady who made this big war...

Late in the afternoon of a chilly day in February, a gentlewoman was sitting alone over her wine, in a well-furnished dining parlor (okay so maybe it was really a rather shabby living room with a television blaring), in the town of O----, in Kentucky. She had put down her book and was musing about the recent presidential inauguration. During said inauguration, Barack Obama was ushered in as the 44th president with his hand on the very bible Lincoln had used to take the oath. Abraham Lincoln, the president know for guiding the nation through the Civil War, authoring the Gettysburg Address, dying from an assassin's bullet, and having the first beard in office. And, of course, most importantly, for being responsible for the end of slavery. But was there in fact a book that was originally the cause of the war, which lead to the defeat of the Confederacy and the resulting emancipation of slaves? Perhaps.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin was first published as a serial in a newspaper in 1851, and a year later in book form. The text brought to light the evils of the ‘peculiar institution’ through intriguing story lines. Did its author, Harriet Beecher Stowe, contribute to the outbreak of the Civil War? To some degree she may have. The novel helped, likely more than anything else, to awaken broad American consciousness to the plight of enslaved African Americans. It was striking, dramatic and emotionally appealing. It captured the imagination of the American public in a way boring abolitionist tracts could not.

When the imagination of the public becomes stirred, things begin to change. Obama knows this fact; it is the very thing that got him elected. But, if he seeks to live up to the legacy of that tall bearded president, he must remember to harness that enthusiasm in real policy change. And, he needs to listen to the people who got him elected, just as Lincoln likely listened to the “little lady”, as he reportedly called her, who took up her pen and changed the world.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

A Truth Universally Acknowledged

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single woman in her early thirties in possession of four hundred books must have given up on ever finding a man. Or at least that is my mother’s perspective on the issue. Personally, I feel the four hundred books would show any potential mate that I am an intelligent and deserving female that should be snapped up quickly before another man sweeps me away forever. I also live under the delusion that there could be peace in the Middle East if only all the people there would read “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” and “The Handmaid’s Tale”. Additionally, I believe fondue sets make useful wedding gifts, eating broccoli will inoculate you from all forms of cancer, and that southern republicans could finally be illuminated by simply watching the movies “A Civil Action” and “Twelve Angry Men” (okay, yes, I realize these are both originally literary works as well – a moving modern book and a still-relevant play – and since I am a self-proclaimed bibliophile, I should have listed them that way, but, do you seriously think most people are going to take the time to read them? Yeah, I didn’t think so either - although, both are totally worth it. Still, for once the movies actually hold up well.)

Hello, my name is Morgo and I am a book hoarder. I buy more books per year than I could conceivable read in five years. I get heart palpitations if I haven’t visited a bookstore or library in three days, and I’ve been known to smuggle small books onto airplanes in my underpants. In my lowest point I was found by a friend offering my last morsel of food money for a seemingly rare copy of a Hemingway in a back alley in Venice. Yes folks, I have a problem.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

My Top Five, All Time, Favorite Places to Read a Book in My City

My top five, all-time, favorite places to read a book in my city, in reverse order:

5. The park next to the library. Nothing particularly exciting or necessarily attractive about it, and it is next to the main drag, so there are annoying traffic sounds to contend with, but it is generally empty. This is a somewhat important feature of a reading spot. They don't need to be completely void of people, but it is important for it not to be too communal of a place. For one thing, if it is too popular, you may have trouble finding a place to comfortably sit, plus you will be hard pressed to have a favorite spot and be able to utilize it regularly – an essential element of a good reading place. True, the library attracts a collection of strange individuals that will gawk and stare shamelessly at you as they pass by, but that is one of the reasons this spot is fifth and not first.

4. The library itself. It edges out the park simply because it can be utilized in any weather and has comfy chairs. True, the same weirdoes who once just walked by you in the park are now sitting next to you, but generally the library is large enough for you to move to a small alcove where you can read alone and undisturbed. Plus, should the book you brought with you turn out to be a big dud, then there are plenty of other choices.

3. The coffee shop. An obvious and common choice to read at, but likely because of the convenient amenities – food, beverages, and the all important bathroom. One could conceivable have a reading marathon here. Should anyone desire to read literally ALL DAY in a public place, this is one of the few places that will accommodate. Unlike certain parks and other outdoor reading sites, the coffee shop allows a reader to indulge in their book without hunger, thirst, seating discomfort or the need to change their underwear. And, unlike other food establishments, the coffee house will not make you feel odd for reading alone or staying for extended periods of time. Four hours of reading at a table at Applebee’s will probably reward you with irritating stares from the wait staff and looks of pity from the families or couples at the nearby tables, not to mention sore ears from the screaming kids.

2. A bench by the river. This is definitely a favorite. A couple of people are usually observable, which is just enough to not make you feel nervous about being alone “down by the river”, but not enough to seriously annoy you or take your favorite bench. Plus, the river affords great views, and generally a bit of a breeze. Naturally, there are large shade trees, because no spot could reach this high on the list without adequate shading. This is one of the absolute most essential elements of a good reading spot. Sunburns and excessive sunscreen application do not bode well for a reading spot unless it involves the ocean. Even then, it is my firm belief that an umbrella is elemental and more enjoyable than having to wipe the sweat off of your book every few minutes, and trying to find the correct position to hold it in order to not have a book shaped tanning spot appear on your skin.

1. The walking circle park. This park consists of a large walking circle, with a playground in a small portion of the park, and the remaining area mostly consisting of trees. It is ideal because one can situate close to the playground on a bench for a bit of people watching in between chapters if desired, or venture further into the circle to a large shade tree for some quiet reading time. My favorite tree is there. It is located a good distance into the circle, so I am not disturbed by others, but still close enough to the playground to hear the occasional giggle or laugh escape from a child overjoyed to be flying down a slide or soaring through the air on a swing. The tree fits my back perfectly, and offers a cooling shadow from its leaves. Even on hot summer days, it is comfortable beneath its frame. And the friendly park squirrels hop around, unafraid to come close, but smart enough not to come too close. It is the quintessential reading spot.