Review of Call Us What We Carry, by Amanda Gorman

Call Us What We Carry

Poems

by Amanda Gorman

Viking, 2021. 228 pages.
Review written September 20, 2022, from my own copy, purchased via amazon.com
Starred Review

I don’t purchase a lot of poetry books, but I was so happy with this one, and I’ve spent the last few months reading a poem or two a day most days.

Amanda Gorman was the 2021 Inaugural Poet, and the stirring poem she recited that day, “The Hill We Climb,” is the final poem in this book.

The book is full of poems as moving and insightful as that one. Amanda Gorman has a way with words. The poems are full of rhymes and alliteration and word play, turning words as if they are pieces of glass, reflecting light in different ways.

These are poems about current times. Written during the thick of the pandemic, there’s plenty about pain and death and healing.

Here’s a small stanza where I underlined the middle line:

Perhaps our relationships are the very make of us,
For fellowship is both our nature & our necessity.
We are formed primarily by what we imagine.

There’s lots that’s lovely here, and lots that made me pause in meditation.

I’ll be honest — there’s a big section in the middle with “erasure poems” — poems made by erasing parts of a document, using what is left. I didn’t enjoy those poems as much. For me, they didn’t have the resonance and didn’t roll off the tongue as well. But I think she was going for the significance of the documents she chose — documents about slaves and about indigenous people treated horribly — and they definitely still have punch.

Altogether, this is a book of poems I’ll want to come back to. I’m glad I got my own copy.

We are enough,
Armed only
With our hands,
Open but unemptied,
Just like a blooming thing.
We walk into tomorrow,
Carrying nothing
But the world.

(p. 205, from “What We Carry”)

And from “The Hill We Climb”:

When day comes, we step out of the shade,
Aflame and unafraid.
The new dawn blooms as we free it,
For there is always light.
If only we’re brave enough to see it,
If only we’re brave enough to be it.

theamandagorman.com

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Review of The Intellectual Lives of Children, by Susan Engel

The Intellectual Lives of Children

by Susan Engel

Harvard University Press, 2021. 219 pages.
Review written September 6, 2022, from a library book

How do children form ideas? When do they become able to think abstractly? What is going on in their heads when they ask questions? When do they learn to imagine? When do they learn to invent? How can we support kids’ ability to form ideas?

This book by a developmental psychologist explores all these questions. Many examples are given, and we’re told about experiments done to determine what things change as a child ages.

It was refreshing and surprising to read a book focusing on children’s thought processes. Here’s a section from the Prelude:

While children are busily gathering information, mulling things over, and speculating about the world, the adults around them are, for the most part, unaware of all that mental activity. Much of the time, they treat children as if they don’t have ideas at all. Focused on whether children are learning to behave well, acquiring skills and facts, and feeling happy, they give little consideration to children’s thoughts, or the puzzles that intrigue them.

And anyone who is around children can help nurture their ideas. This is also from the Prelude:

Outstanding capacity and extraordinary opportunity are not essential for toddlers and preschoolers to grow into children and adults who pursue ideas. Far more important is the sheer time and attention a child gives, and is encouraged to give, to the consideration of ideas. Every child can learn that building ideas is as tangible, accessible, and alluring as making things with modeling clay. It begins with opportunities to collect information — whether about candy, movie stars, or oceans. And it begins in every kitchen, sidewalk, and kindergarten.

The main chapters are “Inquiry,” “Invention,” and “Ideas.” Reading them helped me realize how much goes into a child’s thought processes. The final chapter, “The Idea Workshop,” talks about making space for groups of kids to create and generate ideas, along with some amazing examples.

I’ll be honest. It took me an awfully long time to get through this book. There is small print and long chapters, and the writing is dense. I was going to describe it as academic, and then I noticed it’s published by Harvard University Press, so of course it is! All those things are true, but when I would sit down and focus on the book, it was fascinating. There are plenty of stories of children and their ideas, and they made me think about my own experience with children. So mainly I think my slowness to finish was more about not taking the time to pick up the book than it was being interested once I’d done that.

And I do recommend this book for parents and teachers and anyone who works with children. It will get you thinking about where ideas come from.

hup.harvard.edu

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Review of Jane Austen Cover to Cover, by Margaret C. Sullivan

Jane Austen Cover to Cover

200 Years of Classic Covers

by Margaret C. Sullivan

Quirk Books, 2014. 224 pages.
Review written July 25, 2022, from my own copy, given to me as a gift.
Starred Review

First, a great big huge thank you to my coworker Pam Coughlan, who gave this book to me as a parting gift when I got transferred so I was no longer her supervisor. What a delightful treat it is!

The book tells the history of Jane Austen’s publications — with pictures of covers along the way.

They started out quite plain, but it’s fun to watch fashions in cover design change over the years. Some of the covers are almost funny when a Jane-lover realizes how little they have to do with what’s inside the book.

The chapters cover distinct time periods: 1811-1818 — while Jane Austen was alive, and shortly after; 1832-1920, 1920-1989, and 1990-2013 (Yes, there has been a revival). After that, there’s a chapter with book covers that use stills from movie adaptations, and then a chapter of foreign language editions.

It’s peppered with Jane Austen quotations, especially ones appropriate to scenes shown on the covers, and plenty of information about the different editions featured.

Above all, it’s super fun for any Austenite to browse through. I’m keeping this one in my coffee table to pull out for browsing. (It’s a glass-topped coffee table with a drawer.) So much fun!

quirkbooks.com

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Review of Silent Cities, by Jeffrey H. Loria and Julie Loria

Silent Cities

Portraits of a Pandemic
15 Cities Across the World

by Jeffrey H. Loria and Julie Loria

Skyhorse Publishing, 2021. 366 pages.
Review written March 11, 2022, from a library book.

This book is a large-format doorstop of a book full of large photographs. I read it at the library, looking at photos from a city or two each day, so I wouldn’t have to carry it home and back.

The idea is simple: Photos of fifteen cities taken during the start of the pandemic, when those cities were more deserted than they will ever be again. It’s striking to see the famous buildings and sites without crowds of people.

I think I will enjoy this book more in about ten years. Now it’s almost painful to remember back when the world felt we were all in this together. There are many photos celebrating healthcare workers as heroes, and almost every person who does show up in the pictures is wearing a mask.

The cities featured are London, New York, Jerusalem, Los Angeles, Madrid, Miami, Paris, Chicago, Rio de Janeiro, Boston, Rome, San Francisco, Tel Aviv, Tokyo, and Washington, DC. The photos were taken by different photographers during the beginning of the pandemic and collected by the authors. They provide very little commentary, as the pictures speak for themselves.

This book is worth taking the time to look through and see what happens to our great cities when the people are pushed out of the picture.

skyhorsepublishing.com

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Review of I Am Dance, by Hal Banfield

I Am Dance

Words and Images of the Black Dancer

by Hal Banfield

The Literary Revolutionary, 2019. 94 pages.
Review written August 27, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review

I Am Dance is a gorgeous art photography book featuring twenty black dancers. Here’s a paragraph from the creator’s introduction:

Much like the old proverb about children, it is believed that dancers should be seen and not heard since it is widely understood that dancers speak with their bodies. It was important to me that this I Am Dance project be a platform for the black dancer to express themselves beyond just using their bodies. I wanted this project to be a place for them to also have a voice. Finding a good cross section of talented and trained dancers with interesting and dynamic stories to share was the first order of business and proved to be quite a task. Through months of trial and error, I would eventually identify and assemble a core group of talented and disciplined dancers who latched onto the concept of this project and were willing to be photographed and share their personal stories. What started out as an idea for a photo gallery exhibition would eventually blossom into a collection of diverse stories and images that now fit into the pages of this book.

Each of the twenty dancers is featured in two spreads full of beautiful action photos. Looking at those photos alone gives plenty of opportunity for wonder. They are also given a short page of text each, in their own voices, talking about what dancing means to them.

After many “I Am…” statements, such as “I Am Powerful.”; “I Am Joyful.”; “I Am a Fighter.” and “I Am Connected,” the book ends with a page heading: “We. Are. Dance.”

Because we danced today, the voices of tomorrow will shout louder, every hip will sway wider and every finger will snap sharper in time. Like the roar and crash of the ocean waves, the next generation of dancers of color will hear the undulating taps and echoes of our toes urging them to pick up the beat and keep the rhythm.

I am not a dancer, and I am not black, but I was still inspired by reading and gazing at this beautiful book.

iamdancebook.com

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Review of Bibliostyle, by Nina Freudenberger

Bibliostyle

How We Live at Home with Books

by Nina Freudenberger
with Sadie Stein
photographs by Shade Degges

Clarkson Potter Publishers, 2019. 272 pages.
Review written November 28, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review

Here’s a book for book lovers to drool over, a book that makes me feel so much better about my book hoarding habits!

This is a coffee-table book with large, lavish photographs – of other people’s extravagant personal book collections. And between profiles of home libraries, there are interludes with photos of notable book stores.

This volume is written by an interior designer, so the focus does lean toward the look of the home libraries and how they fit into the design of the homes. But she also does talk with the owners and we hear about the types of books that they own and cherish.

The Introduction to this wonderful volume reveals that creating it was a labor of love. Here’s how that page ends:

In choosing our subjects, we were not merely interested in the beautiful and perfectly curated rooms, the most extensive collections, or those shelves filled only with rare first editions – although there’s plenty of beauty on display. This book is not about unattainable libraries, any more than it is about perfectly decorated homes. Rather, it’s about the power of books to tell stories, in both the literal and figurative sense. As we found repeatedly, surrounding yourself with books you love tells the story of your life, your interests, your passions, your values. Your past and your future. Books allow us to escape, and our personal libraries allow us to invent the story of ourselves – and the legacy that we will leave behind.

There’s a famous quote attributed to Cicero: “A room without books is like a body without a soul.” If I suspected this before, I know it now. I hope you’ll find as much pleasure in discovering these worlds as we did.

There’s a wonderful international aspect to this book, with personal collections from places as far flung as Mexico City, Los Angeles, Paris, Lisbon, and Isle of Wight. The features are gathered into sections titled “The Sentimentalists,” “The Intuitives,” “The Arrangers,” “The Professionals,” and “The Collectors” – but what you have consistently are shelves and shelves of books woven into people’s homes and lives. Oh, for a built-in bookshelf like the ones found in these pages!

I began by reading this book slowly – looking at one personal library per day, but there were lots of holds and I had to turn it back in. So the next time it came to me, I was more purposeful about getting through it – but it was still a delight. I may have to purchase my own copy. And the next time I get someone to help me move, I could show them this book and say, “See, my book hoarding could be a lot worse!”

clarksonpotter.com

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Review of Playlist, by James Rhodes

Playlist

The Rebels and Revolutionaries of Sound

by James Rhodes
illustrated by Martin O’Neill

Candlewick Studio, 2019. 68 pages.
Review written April 1, 2020, from a library book
2019 Cybils Award Winner, Senior High Nonfiction
Starred Review

This book is visually stunning as well as audibly stunning (more on that in a minute). It’s oversized, but many will realize it’s the same square shape and size as a record album.

Once inside, every spread is a presentation. This is an author who loves classical music and is excited about it. If anyone can communicate that love and excitement to a young reader, this would be the person.

Here’s an excerpt from his Introduction:

I’ll be honest with you: classical music is not usually seen as riveting material for a book. I know that. You know that. It is thought of as dull, irrelevant, belonging to other (usually old) people, and about as interesting as algebra. I will say this though: classical music saved my life when I was a kid. And even today, many years later, every single time I listen to it, it makes me feel amazing.

Classical music has a bad and, in my mind, unfair reputation. Those composers with the white curly wigs, such as Bach and Mozart, might seem super old-fashioned now. But they were the original rock stars. They changed history, inspired millions, and are still listened to and worshipped all around the world today. So I hope you’ll leave behind your preconceptions: even if you think you hate it, give it an hour or two of your time and then decide.

It does have to be said that there are a LOT of classical composers, and it can be quite overwhelming to decide where to begin. I have chosen seven composers to get us started. For each composer I have selected two pieces to discuss and listen to. I’m also going to explain a bit about the lives of the composers. (You won’t believe some of their stories. Did you know Beethoven peed into a chamber pot he kept under his piano and Bach had twenty children?) I’ve chosen Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Schubert, Rachmaninoff, and Ravel: the perfect introduction to classical music.

So that gives the format of what follows: We’ll have a spread for each composer, then a spread telling about his life, then a spread for each of the two pieces of music that James Rhodes analyzes for us. And that’s what makes this book extra vivid: At the front he’s got a playlist of all the music. You put tinyurl.com/jamesrhodesplaylist into a browser, and you’ll get to listen to all the pieces on Spotify. So you get to listen to the music as he describes it.

And his enthusiastic descriptions help you appreciate and understand the significance of the pieces he chooses.

All of his descriptions ring with his love for the pieces. Here’s an example taken from the spread about Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in C Minor, Finale:

As we know, Rachmaninoff was a giant, and this concerto requires really, really big hands. He asks the pianist to play enormous chords and super-fast runs of notes and jumps from the bottom of the keyboard to the top and back again. The last movement, which we’re going to focus on here, is my favorite, for reasons that will become obvious as you listen to it. It has everything that any music fan could ever want – incredible, unforgettable melodies, insane piano pyrotechnics (I mean just listen to the first time the piano enters!), excitement, melancholy, heartbreak, and heroism, all in eleven minutes. There are giant cymbal crashes, sweeping romantic tunes with the entire orchestra and solo piano playing at full volume, and an electrifying ending. But it’s the big tune, perhaps his most famous melody, that really does it for me. It starts at 1’47, and Rachmaninoff, knowing how special it is, repeats it three times during the course of the movement, each time adding little touches and making it fresher and more magnificent until the very last time (9’55 OMG), when it becomes this enormous, grand, sweeping melody that has inspired dozens of Hollywood composers and would feel right at home in one of the Jurassic Park, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, or Incredibles movies.

Speaking of movies, in the section on the composer’s life, he always includes some movies that use music by the composer.

There are some additional spreads with musical terms and a timeline of Western Classical Music, and absolutely nothing in this book is remotely boring. It gives the reader a nice background of classical music, and a wonderful audio sampling of the riches you can find there.

At first when I opened this book, I was reluctant to go to the trouble of listening to the playlist. By the time I was done, I was eager to hear and notice the things James Rhodes pointed out.

As he says to finish his Introduction:

So, this is my plea: give this music a chance. Read the book, listen to the pieces in the playlist I’ve built for you (turn the page!), and then, if you want, NEVER listen to it again, safe in the knowledge you’ve given it a go and hated it. But maybe, just maybe, it’ll blow your mind and improve your life a little bit, and you’ll want to send me a giant box of cookies as a thank-you. (I’m not even joking – send as many as you like.)

Enjoy. Take it slowly. Allow yourself to experience something magical.

Count me as someone whose mind was blown. Though in lieu of sending cookies, I’m writing this review.

candlewickstudio.com

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Review of The Watchman and Other Poems, by L. M. Montgomery

The Watchman and Other Poems

by L. M. Montgomery

Leopold Classic Library, reproduced from McClelland, Goodchild & Stewart Publishers, 1916. 159 pages.
Review written September 20, 2019, from my own copy

I’m rereading my L. M. Montgomery books in publication order, but never had found a copy of her book of poems, the eighth book she published. I found it in a reprint on Amazon and rectified that omission.

I am probably not the best audience for poetry. And these are old-fashioned in style, often using archaic language. They all rhyme, and many of the rhymes seem trite.

The story goes that when Maud Montgomery was a girl, she tried her hand at unrhymed poetry and read an example to her father. He said it didn’t sound like poetry.

She said, “It’s blank verse.”
He replied, “Very blank.”

And she wrote rhymed poetry forever after.

I wasn’t crazy about the format of the book, because it grouped poems about the sea together, and then poems about the woods together – and they began to all sound the same.

The poems I liked best were the poems that tell a story. Perhaps that’s because what L. M. Montgomery is good at is telling stories. The title poem, “The Watchman,” was about one of the soldiers guarding Jesus’ tomb when he was resurrected. Another poem, “If Mary Had Known,” told about the very bad and very good things her son would go through.

L. M. Montgomery likely suffered from bipolar disorder, so that gave a little extra light on “The Choice” – where she tells Life that she would rather “sound thy deeps and reach thy highest passion, With thy delight and with thy suffering rife” than have a boring life. “Wan peace, uncolored days, were a poor favor; To lack great pain and love were to lack savor.”

Another one I liked was “To My Enemy.” In it, she thanks not her friend, but her enemy for spurring her to do great things.

I had not scaled such weary heights
But that I held thy scorn in fear,
And never keenest lure might match
The subtle goading of thy sneer.

Thine anger struck from me a fire
That purged all dull content away,
Our mortal strife to me has been
Unflagging spur from day to day.

It’s possible that I will appreciate the poems about the woods and the sea more after I have actually visited Prince Edward Island. I think I’d better go find out!

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Review of The Alpine Path, by L. M. Montgomery

The Alpine Path

The Story of My Career

by L. M. Montgomery

Fitzhenry & Whiteside Limited, 1990. First published in 1917.

I’m visiting Prince Edward Island in a few weeks (Yay!), and as part of my preparation, I’m rereading L. M. Montgomery’s books in the order they were published, so this short book about how she got started writing was up next.

In the Preface, the purpose of the book is explained:

In 1917 the editor of Everywoman’s World, a magazine published in Toronto from 1911 until the 1920s, asked L. M. Montgomery to write the story of her career. What she produced was published in six instalments, June through November, under the title she chose, The Alpine Path. It came from a verse that had been her inspiration during the long years when success as a writer seemed remote and only dogged determination kept her on

The Alpine path, so hard, so steep,
That leads to heights sublime.

Now, I’ve read L. M. Montgomery’s Selected Journals and am currently reading her Complete Journals — so this little book doesn’t really contain any new information for me. Instead of focusing on just her writing career, Maud Montgomery writes a lot about her childhood. Though that part very much reflects how she came up with a child as imaginative as Anne and a child so in love with the natural beauty of Prince Edward Island – this is simply who she herself was.

She also finished up The Alpine Path by copying her journal entries from her honeymoon in Scotland. It’s not very pertinent to how she became a writer, and it feels like padding to make this long enough to be a book. Visiting Scotland is very interesting, yes, but doesn’t have a whole lot to do with the story of her career. This time through the book I enjoyed that section much more, since I got to visit Scotland in 2003 and have been to some of the same places.

Since I am now reading her books chronologically, I did notice in particular how much of this story of how she got started as a writer she later used in her book Emily Climbs, as her heroine Emily of New Moon works and struggles to become an author – just as Maud Montgomery did herself. In fact, some of these scenes are pulled exactly and used for Emily, emphasizing how autobiographical a character she is.

I was also reminded that Maud Montgomery did her apprenticeship writing short stories. Here she writes about how her first efforts were spurned. But she persisted and started getting published by magazines that paid her in copies. And she persisted still more until she actually got paid, and eventually made quite a sum with her pen, even before she published a book. So Anne of Green Gables didn’t come from nothing.

This book does remind me that L. M. Montgomery is in her element writing about characters in a small town and incidents and interactions that happen with them. She knows the foibles and quirks of human nature and can draw people to great effect with her pen.

It’s also interesting that her career had just begun when she wrote The Alpine Path. She had published the first three Anne books, Kilmeny of the Orchard, the two Story Girl books, a book of short stories, and a book of poems. She would go on to publish fifteen more books in her lifetime. So it’s no wonder that this book talks more about how she got her start than on what it was like to continue to build a career as an author. I do recommend reading her journals to find out more about that!

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Review of The Annotated Anne of Green Gables, by L. M. Montgomery, edited by Wendy E. Barry, Margaret Anne Doody, and Mary E. Doody Jones

The Annotated
Anne of Green Gables

by L. M. Montgomery
edited by Wendy E. Barry, Margaret Anne Doody, and Mary E. Doody Jones

Oxford University Press, 1997. 496 pages.
Starred Review
Review written September 2, 2019, from my own copy.

This book is an obvious purchase for any L. M. Montgomery superfan like me. I ordered my own copy as soon as I learned of the book’s existence several years ago (though not as long ago as when it was first published in 1997). (Okay, it looks like now it’s out of print and expensive on Amazon. It’s worth looking for a used or library copy!)

I did not, however, get the book read very quickly. The content is marvelous and full of interesting tidbits, but the format is oversized. It’s a heavy book, not suitable for curling up with in bed, and not fitting easily into the books I pile up near my dining room table and read bits of daily. So I was making very slow progress.

However, this year I’m heading to Prince Edward Island with two dear friends – and that was enough for me to get motivated and finish reading this book. It’s also the perfect book to read for background on L. M. Montgomery and the book that made her famous.

The full text of Anne of Green Gables is included in this volume, but there’s a plethora of materials to go with it.

Yes, there are annotations with the notes written in the wide margins on the sides of the pages. We get insights on the books Anne refers to and notes on the sources of quotations used. We get definitions of words like “bush” (uncleared natural woodland) and “wincey.” (I once tried to use “wincey” in Scrabble because of Anne of Green Gables, but it wasn’t in a current dictionary.) We get explanations of household chores at the time like boiling the dishcloth before washing machines existed.

There are also an abundance of illustrations. Many are from early editions of Anne of Green Gables, but there are also photographs from L. M. Montgomery’s journals and other illustrations and photos from the time period.

The material at the front and back is particularly fascinating and helpful. There’s a Chronology of L. M. Montgomery’s life. I used it to update my list of her books in publication order, which I’d gotten from the internet and had a few small errors. There’s a short biography of Lucy Maud Montgomery and notes about her writing of Anne. There are even Textual Notes detailing when the manuscript differs from the first published edition or the English edition, which had some changes.

The Appendices have a wealth of material. And this is the part of the volume that I finished up recently – so they were perfect reading just before my upcoming trip. They include “The Geography of Anne of Green Gables,” and much information about the times – orphan care, education, gardening, home life, and the “concerts” where music and elocution were demonstrated. They also list the complete text of many songs, literary works, and recitation pieces that are mentioned. And at the end are book reviews that came out when Anne was first published.

This book is for the adult Anne aficionado. I, for one, found many surprises – things I’d glossed over, thinking I knew what they meant – but now I have a more complete picture. This was so much fun to read – especially in anticipation of visiting the Green Gables Museum in a few weeks!

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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