Who Was Emily Dickinson?

It’s not a secret I love Emily Dickinson. My blog’s title is taken from my favorite of her poems. I have visited her house twice and paid my respects at her grave twice in the last year and some change. Last Friday, I had an opportunity to hear a talk by writer Jerome Charyn at Amherst College. The title of his talk was “Did Emily Dickinson Really Exist?” Of course, Charyn chose the title to provoke. He has written two books about Emily Dickinson—one fiction and the other nonfiction.

Steve bought me A Loaded Gun for my birthday, and I bought myself The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson after hearing his talk.

The center of his discussion concerned a new daguerreotype believed to feature Emily Dickinson and her friend Kate Scott Turner Anthon. I believe the daguerreotype is copyrighted, so I won’t reproduce it here, but you can see it on Amherst College’s website. After hearing Charyn speak about the photo and also learning more about its provenance from the person who found it, I am fairly convinced it is Emily Dickinson on the left in the photograph. Of course, it’s true that many people would say the opposite, and the only way we’ll get to the bottom of it, finally, is if the FBI is willing to look into it with their special equipment. I have a feeling they don’t spend a lot of their time verifying suspected photographs of 19th century poets, though.

The photograph’s owner let me take a picture of the copy of the daguerreotype that he brought with him. It is in a frame case that is nearly identical to the original and is the same size as the original. It’s not the best picture, so in order to see the photograph properly, please do check it out at the link I mentioned previously.


As you can see, it’s about wallet-sized and would have been a personal photo—something carried in the pocket or placed in a drawer. It’s an intimate photo. Kate Scott Turner, pictured on the right, was wearing widow’s mourning. Emily’s dress was probably blue, green, or gray (I learned a lot about how we can determine colors from daguerreotypes). I didn’t know that because daguerreotypes were printed on silver, they do not pixelate. If you zoom into a photo on paper, eventually you get dots. Not so with silver. The photograph’s owner said that we really haven’t duplicated the quality of a daguerreotype with our modern technology. Of course, I thought that was fascinating.

I learned that the known daguerreotype of Emily Dickinson was taken when she was a teenager, right after an illness, so she is a bit thinner than she otherwise would have been. The known daguerreotype has not been handled with care and has been damaged over the years. It was also made with older technology than this newer daguerreotype, and what happened was the edges of the daguerreotypes made with this older technology tended to warp the edges. The “new” daguerreotype’s owner pointed out that Emily’s thumb looks like a lobster claw.


Well, it does look weird now someone has pointed it out to me. He said that there was something wrong with the way her nose looks—large on one side and thinner on the other. He said this was likely due to the same issues with the older technology. He said that Dickinson’s family didn’t think this photograph was a good likeness. However, I think if you examine the eyes, they do look like the eyes of the woman on the left in the new daguerreotype. She had astigmatism, so there is a flatness to the eye on the viewer’s left that is similar in both photos. The mouth looks the same to me as well, as does the hair. I’m not a photographer, and I know very little about the history of photography, so I learned a lot I didn’t know.

Aside from these interesting particulars, the daguerreotype’s owner said a trunk of fabric swatches for a quilt was found in the Emily Dickinson house, and he thinks one of the swatches looks like the dress Emily is wearing in the new daguerreotype. Interestingly, and even more tantalizingly, when Thomas Wentworth Higginson asked Emily Dickinson for a photograph, she responded, “Could you believe me—without? I had no portrait, now. . . .”

I have to agree, as an English teacher and a writer, that the comma Emily Dickinson uses after “portrait” is purposeful. She seems to be saying she used to have a photograph, but that she gave it away or doesn’t have it anymore for some other reason. The owner of the new daguerreotype believes that Emily gave the portrait to Samuel Bowles, a friend of both Emily’s and Kate’s. The daguerreotype’s present owner, who is a daguerreotype collector, bought the daguerreotype in a junk shop and was able to trace the provenance to Bowles.

A lot of circumstantial evidence, yes, but it convinced me. I was intrigued by Jerome Charyn’s description of Dickinson as a “sexual predator.” I think that’s going a bit far, but the subject of his talk was her poem “My Life had stood—a Loaded Gun,” which Charyn claims is near impossible to explicate. However, he thinks that this poem, which he sees as written from the viewpoint of a gun, indicates that Emily herself is the loaded gun. Kate looks distinctly unhappy. Perhaps she was coerced to pose for this portrait and didn’t want to. Dickinson, however, projects confidence, looking boldly into the camera and putting her arm somewhat aggressively around Kate.

Emily famously wrote letters to her sister-in-law, Susan Huntington Gilbert Dickinson. Charyn claimed in his talk that there is no way to read those letters except as love letters. Of course, I immediately ordered a copy of them so I could see for myself. He spoke so eloquently of how delightful her letters were that I felt I should read them myself.

Dickinson’s sexuality has been the subject of some speculation for a long time. I don’t know enough about it to make a judgment, hence my desire to read her letters and poems and see what I can learn. I can’t wait to dive into Charyn’s books and Emily’s letters and learn more about her.

The evening certainly gave me a lot to think about, and it didn’t do much to shrink my ever-growing to-read list. Charyn claims the more he learns about Dickinson, the less he knows. I was more intrigued by Emily Dickinson than ever after this talk. I loved the drive up to Amherst. The fall colors are gorgeous right now, and it was a beautiful night. It had been a long time since I did something that was geeky fun by myself.

What do you think? Is this Emily Dickinson in this daguerreotype? Anyone want to “book club” Charyn’s books with me?

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Sunday Post #45: Rainy Day Reading

Sunday Post

I ask you: is there anything better than sitting inside on a rainy day, listening to the rain fall as you read and sip a hot beverage of your choice? Especially if it also happens to be fall, and even better, October? I live in New England, and our falls are just perfect. My favorite season.

I haven’t written a Sunday Post in a really long time. I’m making good progress with the R. I. P. Challenge. I read the second two Miss Peregrine books, Hollow City and Library of Souls. I have two other contenders currently on the nightstand: The Club Dumas by Arturo Pérez-Reverte and The House Between Tides by Sarah Maine. Progress on my other challenges is mixed.

nanowrimo_2016_webbadge_participantI don’t know that I’ll be able to do 50,000 words this November, but I’ve signed up again for NaNoWriMo. I have an idea that I’m very excited about, but it will involve some research, and I don’t have a ton of time to do it. Still, I do have some, and if I can prioritize some things a bit this month, perhaps I can be ready to go on November 1. I’m returning to my favorite: historical fiction. At any rate, I have a Scrivener file ready to rock and roll with some notes and preliminary sketches. I am thinking about whether or not to get involved with some local events. My experience with writing groups has been decidedly negative up until this point. Not in terms of discouraging feedback or anything, but more in terms of finding a group who takes writing seriously and isn’t, you know, weird.

It’s a nice long weekend. I have Monday off. We are still talking about what we might want to do since it’s rare these days that my husband, my kids, and me all have the same day off. If it’s raining still, I’m not sure we’ll go out, but I was hoping we could go into Boston and look around, but if we’re going to do that, we need to make some plans.

Well, I’m going to curl up with the coffee and book again. I have some reading to do. Enjoy what’s left of your weekend!

The Sunday Salon

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TLC Book Tour: Commonwealth, Ann Patchett

tlc1I’ve been seeing Ann Patchett’s newest novel Commonwealth on all the “best of the fall” lists and displays in bookstores, so I was really excited to be among the first to read it, courtesy of the TLC Book Tours. I was also excited to read it because I really enjoyed State of Wonder. I haven’t read her book Bel Canto, but I understand it’s amazing.

Commonwealth begins at Franny Keating’s christening party in Southern California, when Bert Cousins, attorney at the DA office, shows up uninvited with a bottle of gin that never seems to run out and the idea to make screwdrivers with oranges, abundant in the trees of suburban LA. Before long, Bert is Franny’s stepfather. She and her older sister spend most of the year in Virginia, where Bert and Beverly, Franny’s mother, move after their marriage. Meanwhile, Fix Keating, Franny’s father, stays in California, close to where the Cousins children spend most of their year with their mother. However, during the summer, the families combine when the Cousins children fly out to Virginia to spend time with their father. Bert and Beverly, clearly worn out by caring for all six children at once, don’t pay quite as much attention to the wild adventures the children undertake—an oversight that will prove disastrous and ripple through the family for decades. Years later, Franny meets renowned author Leon Posen, and her family story finds its way into his first novel in years.

This book flashes around in time and takes on different points of view, but for the most part, it is told by Franny. I am not sure if the revelations about Franny’s family or the aftermath when they become the subject of Leon’s book would have been as effective without time jumps, but all the same, it makes it more challenging to follow the plot. However, this book is much more about the characters and how they relate than it is about the plot. Some readers might want to return to other parts, and it’s easy to miss a small but important detail. I did feel the plot meandered too much, and I kept looking for a great revelation or some major event that would tie the ends together in a grand theme, which I did see in State of Wonder. The writing at the sentence level was great—Patchett on form. Patchett pulls some sleight of hand with the pivotal event (I can’t reveal too much) that seems unfair à la Chekov’s gun. Honestly, that particular choice somehow made the universe feel especially cruel. I’d be interested to see if other readers felt the same way. The novel takes a while to get into, but once it grabbed me, it was hard to put down. I wanted to find out how everything would end. The result didn’t feel like a novel story—it felt more like a real family story, passed down over the years, with all the flaws, gaps, and drawbacks as well as all the great realism and importance that a family story is.

Rating: ★★★★☆

tlc2Tour Schedule

Tuesday, September 13th: BookNAround
Wednesday, September 14th: Books and Bindings
Thursday, September 15th: Vox Libris
Friday, September 16th: Art @ Home
Friday, September 16th: 5 Minutes For Books
Monday, September 19th: A Bookish Way of Life
Wednesday, September 21st: A Chick Who Reads
Thursday, September 22nd: Tina Says…
Monday, September 26th: bookchickdi
Tuesday, September 27th: Books on the Table
Wednesday, September 28th: Cerebral Girl in a Redneck World
Thursday, September 29th: West Metro Mommy
Monday, October 3rd: Fictionophile
Tuesday, October 4th: Literary Quicksand
Tuesday, October 4th: Luxury Reading
Wednesday, October 5th: Much Madness is Divinest Sense
Thursday, October 6th: Lit and Life
Friday, October 7th: The Well-Read Redhead

Read on to learn more about the book from TLC Book Tours and the publisher.

commonwealth-coverAbout Commonwealth

Hardcover: 336 pages
Publisher: Harper (September 13, 2016)

The acclaimed, bestselling author—winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award and the Orange Prize—tells the enthralling story of how an unexpected romantic encounter irrevocably changes two families’ lives.

One Sunday afternoon in Southern California, Bert Cousins shows up at Franny Keating’s christening party uninvited. Before evening falls, he has kissed Franny’s mother, Beverly—thus setting in motion the dissolution of their marriages and the joining of two families.

Spanning five decades, Commonwealth explores how this chance encounter reverberates through the lives of the four parents and six children involved. Spending summers together in Virginia, the Keating and Cousins children forge a lasting bond that is based on a shared disillusionment with their parents and the strange and genuine affection that grows up between them.

When, in her twenties, Franny begins an affair with the legendary author Leon Posen and tells him about her family, the story of her siblings is no longer hers to control. Their childhood becomes the basis for his wildly successful book, ultimately forcing them to come to terms with their losses, their guilt, and the deeply loyal connection they feel for one another.

Told with equal measures of humor and heartbreak, Commonwealth is a meditation on inspiration, interpretation, and the ownership of stories. It is a brilliant and tender tale of the far-reaching ties of love and responsibility that bind us together.

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HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Photo by Melissa Ann Pinney

Photo by Melissa Ann Pinney

About Ann Patchett

Ann Patchett is the author of six novels and three books of nonfiction. She has won many prizes, including Britain’s Orange Prize, the PEN/Faulkner Prize, and the Book Sense Book of the Year. Her work has been translated into more than thirty languages. She lives in Nashville, Tennessee, where she is the co-owner of Parnassus Books.

Find out more about Ann on her website and follow her bookstore, Parnassus Books, on Twitter.

Harper Collins was kind enough to send me an advance reader copy of the book in exchange for a fair and honest review.

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Review: Library of Souls, Ransom Riggs

Library of Souls is the third novel in the Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children series. At the end of the previous novel, Hollow City, Jacob Portman has discovered that he not only has the power to see and fight hollowgasts, but he can also control them. He is going to need this power as he travels to the Devil’s Acre, a corrupted loop in the cesspool of Victorian London controlled by wights, to rescue all his peculiar friends and their guardian, Miss Peregrine, along with other ymbrynes.

Emma and Jacob encounter Sharon, who says he can take them to Devil’s Acre, near the docks in London. They set off with Addison the dog for the most dangerous adventure they will yet experience—right into the fortress of the wights itself. The fate of all peculiardom rests on their shoulders.

Library of Souls introduces what I think is probably one of the best secondary characters in the series—the boatman Sharon (think Charon). His dark sense of humor is fun, and he’s interesting to watch—can he be trusted? Jacob and Emma also learn a lot more about the seedier side of peculiardom, including the horrible accident in Siberia (we know it as the Tunguska event) that created hollowgasts, and therefore, also created wights—a scourge peculiars have been hiding from for about 100 years.

As Jacob and Emma learn more, the mythos of peculiardom is fleshed out, and there are ample opportunities for Riggs to continue the series, focusing on new adventures. This particular volume of the series was hard to put down. I think it had perhaps a little bit less of the humor (thought it still retains plenty of funny moments), which makes sense due to the seriousness of the situation in which Jacob and Emma find themselves. I read nearly all of the last half of the book in one big gulp today. It’s been a while since I’ve picked up a book so good I didn’t want to put it down.

Rating: ★★★★★

This book made for a great creepy read for the R. I. P. Challenge, and I’m counting it also for the Reading England Challenge, as Devil’s Acre is the worst of Victorian London. However, I am not counting for other challenges. I just bought the book in September, and it hasn’t been on my TBR list long. It’s not exactly historical fiction either—more of a fantasy.

RIP Eleven

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TLC Book Tour: The Bitch is Back, ed. Cathi Hanauer

tlc1I’m glad I had the opportunity to read The Bitch is Back, edited by Cathi Hanauer for TLC Book Tours. First, I wanted to share my own thoughts about the book, and what follows is more information provided by the publishers.

I have not read The Bitch is in the House, to which The Bitch is Back is a sequel, but my understanding is that it, like The Bitch is Back, is a collection of essays written by women about “the face of womanhood at the beginning of a new millennium.” Some of the original writers returned for The Bitch is Back, and a few of these returned to their original essays and reflected on the women they once were and the changes over the last 15 years.

If I had to guess, I’d say the audience for this book is women in their late thirties through their late sixties, and I fall in that bracket. As such, I felt like this book spoke to me in a way it might not speak to younger millennial women or older women. The essays in this book treat on subjects as diverse as marriage and parenting, divorce and adultery, transsexualism, homosexuality, domestic abuse, child abuse, arranged marriage, romance, aging, and sex. I found myself underlining lines and dogearing pages that spoke to me, both of which I rarely do when reading for pleasure. These bitches have a lot to say! They have many of the same fears and questions I do:

  • What, exactly, is menopause going to do to my body? And what about sex?
  • How do you keep a marriage going past its twentieth year?
  • What about aging? What can I expect?

They discuss these and other issues candidly in the essays. Some standouts for me included “Vagina Notwithstanding” by Jennifer Finney Boylan, in which Boylan discusses her transition from male to female and its impact on her marriage to a woman; “Coming of Age: Sex 102” by Sarah Crichton (and Sarah, if you see this, THANK YOU for the shopping recommendation—she, and anyone else who reads the essay, will get it), in which Crichton discusses sex after menopause and a long dry spell; “Living Alone: A Fantasy” by Sandra Tsing Loh, in which Loh discusses the end of her marriage and living with her boyfriend Charlie; and “Second Time Around” by Kate Christensen, in which Christensen discusses advocating for what you need out of marriage. I found nuggets of wisdom in most of the essays, however.

One criticism I have read of The Bitch in the House is that all of the writers were white women who wrote for a living and as such, the collective experience of womanhood wasn’t represented. In The Bitch is Back, Cathi Hanauer appears to have attempted to answer that criticism with the inclusion of more women of color (though the bulk of the women seem to be white) and women in lower classes. As a result, the essays feel a bit uneven, but I think trying for diversity, even if it results in a bit of unevenness, is a worthy goal. It struck me that most of the women seemed to live in the northeast, and in New York and New England in particular, but I also live in New England—another area in which I related with the writers. I found the book to be enlightening and enjoyable. And I definitely wanted to go out for drinks with some of these ladies.

Read on to learn more about the book from TLC Book Tours and the publisher.

Rating: ★★★★☆

Tour Schedule

tlc2Tuesday, September 27th: Dwell in Possibility
Wednesday, September 28th: G. Jacks Writes
Thursday, September 29th: Much Madness is Divinest Sense
Friday, September 30th: Doing Dewey
Monday, October 3rd: Thoughts On This ‘n That
Tuesday, October 4th: Bibliotica
Wednesday, October 5th: Book Hooked Blog
Thursday, October 6th: In Bed with Books
Monday, October 10th: A Lovely Bookshelf on the Wall
Tuesday, October 11th: Stranded in Chaos
Thursday, October 13th: West Metro Mommy

the-bitch-is-back-coverAbout The Bitch is Back

Hardcover: 368 pages
Publisher: William Morrow (September 27, 2016)

More than a decade after the New York Times bestselling anthology The Bitch in the House spoke up loud and clear for a generation of young women, nine of the original contributors are back—along with sixteen captivating new voices—sharing their ruminations from an older, stronger, and wiser perspective about love, sex, work, family, independence, body-image, health, and aging: the critical flash points of women’s lives today.

“Born out of anger,” the essays in The Bitch in the House chronicled the face of womanhood at the beginning of a new millennium. Now those funny, smart, passionate contributors—today less bitter and resentful, and more confident, competent, and content—capture the spirit of post-feminism in this equally provocative, illuminating, and compelling companion anthology.

Having aged into their forties, fifties, and sixties, these “bitches”—bestselling authors, renowned journalists, and critically acclaimed novelists—are back . . . and better than ever. In The Bitch Is Back, Cathi Hanauer, Kate Christensen, Sarah Crichton, Debora Spar, Ann Hood, Veronica Chambers, and nineteen other women offer unique views on womanhood and feminism today. Some of the “original bitches” (OBs) revisit their earlier essays to reflect on their previous selves. All reveal how their lives have changed in the intervening years—whether they stayed coupled, left marriages, or had affairs; developed cancer or other physical challenges; coped with partners who strayed, died, or remained faithful; became full-time wage earners or homemakers; opened up their marriages; remained childless or became parents; or experienced other meaningful life transitions.

As a “new wave” of feminists begins to take center stage, this powerful, timely collection sheds a much-needed light on both past and present, offering understanding, compassion, and wisdom for modern women’s lives, all the while pointing toward the exciting possibilities of tomorrow.

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Purchase Links

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

cathi-hanauer-apAbout Cathi Hanauer

Cathi Hanauer is the author of three novels—My Sister’s Bones, Sweet Ruin, and Gone—and is the editor of the New York Times bestselling essay collection The Bitch in the House. A former columnist for Glamour, Mademoiselle, and Seventeen, she has written for The New York Times, Elle, Self, Real Simple, and other magazines. She lives in Northampton, Massachusetts, with her husband, New York Times “Modern Love” editor Daniel Jones, and their daughter and son.

Find out more about Cathi and her books at her website, and follow her on Facebook and Twitter: @cathihanauer.

Harper Collins was kind enough to send me an advance reader copy of the book in exchange for a fair and honest review.

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My First Cozy Reader Box!

September Cozy Reader Box

I received my first Cozy Reader Box in the mail this week. My husband is a little worried about the boxes, but I promise there aren’t any more, my dear! I really loved this box. Take a peek inside.

Gayle Forman's Leave Me

First up, a hardcover of Gayle Forman’s Leave Me. I have read both If I Stay and Where She Went, Forman’s YA books, and loved them. This is her first novel for adults.


I loved this bracelet from Lily Brooke Vintage. I usually can’t wear bracelets because my wrists are small, and unless I get them sized especially for me or they are adjustable, they just slip off. This bracelet, however, fits just fine. It jingles pleasantly when I wear it, too. I love it.


Some yummy-looking gourmet cookies from Lark. I have never seen these before. Coconut Butter and Salted Caramel Almond Chocolate Pearl. They look delicious!


A package of whole coffee beans from Big Island Coffee Roasters. I am not the most savvy coffee drinker, but I hear that Hawaiian coffee is supposed to be very good. We tried some for breakfast this morning, and it’s delicious. I cut the flavor out when I took the picture, but it’s Maui Mokka with notes of “chocolate, brown sugar, and the aroma of baking cookies.” Mmm!

They also sent along a coffee lip balm.

Lip Balm

Finally, a therapeutic hot/cold corn bag from the Jack’s Meow.

Therepeutic Corn Bag

I had something like this before that I bought from a craft show, and it was great. You can use it warm—just heat it up in the microwave and put it on whatever spot is sore. You can also use this one cold. Put it in a freezer bag and let it get nice and cold in the freezer.

In addition, most of these folks included discount codes good in their stories for future purchases. The box includes a handy card detailing the contents, including retail price for each. It could be argued that some of the items might be purchased for less than retail (certainly the book could be). Still, the items add up to about $20 more than I paid for the box, and I doubt I would have been able to do better than that, even if I wasn’t paying retail. I liked everything in this box, especially that bracelet. The box is perfectly named, too—just the sort of cozy comforts a book nerd would want, but not necessarily the things you’d think to get for yourself. Love it!

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Review: Hollow City, Ransom Riggs

When Hollow City, the second novel in the Miss Peregrine series, came out a few years ago, I bought it immediately. I also started reading it right away. But for some reason, I set it aside after maybe the first chapter or so, and I didn’t pick it up again until recently. I just can’t imagine now how I ever put it down! The book is nonstop action pretty much from start to finish. One of my students who had read the series last year said that I would want to start the third book immediately after finishing this one, and he was right.

Hollow City picks up right where Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children leaves off, as Jacob and the other peculiars escape their island with the injured and “stuck” Miss Peregrine. Be warned: this book does not fill in the gaps for anyone who hasn’t read the first book. You are going to have to start with the first book if you want to follow the story. I had a bit of trouble because it had been a long time since I read Miss Peregrine. In this second book, the peculiars go in search of an ymbryne who can help Miss Peregrine return to her human form. They search for and find a time loops run by an ymbryne named Miss Wren, but they learn Miss Wren is missing. She is the only known ymbryne who has not been captured by wights, so the peculiars set off to London in search of her.

Riggs writes good dialogue, and his characters are well-drawn, particularly his secondary characters like Olive, Millard, Addison the dog, and Enoch. I admit I found the “romance” between Jacob and Emma to be a bit wooden and pat, but the story itself was interesting, and the ending was an excellent surprise. The images are amazing. Do yourself a favor and read this one on paper and not on an e-reader or audiobook. You will get a lot more out of the images if you can savor them and flip through the book.

In all, I definitely recommend the book. It’s a great choice for the R. I. P. Challenge.

Rating: ★★★★½

Because I’ve had this book on my shelf and TBR (or really, a to-be finished) pile for a long time, I’m glad to be able to count it for my Shelf Love and Mount TBR Challenges. I’m also counting this book for both the Reading England 2016 and R. I. P. Challenges.

RIP Eleven

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Review: March: Book Three, John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell

John Lewis’s graphic memoir March was released in three parts. You can read my reviews of March: Book One and March: Book Two. March: Book Three was released just last month, and it concludes Lewis’s story of participating in the Civil Rights Movement, culminating in his involvement with the march from Selma to Montgomery, AL. and President Johnson’s signing of the Voting Rights Act. Woven through the story is also an account of John Lewis’s experiences on the day Barack Obama was inaugurated.

March: Book Three picks up Lewis’s story with the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham. Lewis recounts how violence escalated as the movement drew closer to its goal of achieving voting rights for all. He tells of the murders of Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman, and James Chaney, the subject of the film Mississippi Burning. He recalls visiting Africa and meeting Malcolm X. In addition, he recounts his own beating as he crossed the Edmund Pettis Bridge in Selma.

One of the things I love about this series is it preserves an important episode in American history, told through the voice of one who lived it, in an accessible and engaging way. I personally think the series is indispensable for teaching the Civil Rights Movement to teenagers. The story is interesting enough on its own, but with the hook of the visuals of Nate Powell, which has almost the same immediacy as film, the story really comes alive. Lewis is often called the Conscience of the House. Few have forgotten how he led a sit-in this past summer to attempt to convince the House to vote on gun safety legislation. I can think of few living people I admire more than John Lewis. At the age of 76, he is still actively working—peacefully—to preserve human life and dignity. He is an amazing human being, and his tireless work on behalf of others—all of his life—is just about unparalleled in public service.

The entire March series is a must-read for everyone, especially in these times when some states are engaged in voter suppression tactics. Alabama, for example, recently began enforcing a voter ID law and promptly closed DMV offices in predominantly black communities, making it difficult for African-Americans to obtain the ID’s they need to vote. It’s amazing to read this memoir and think, “these things really happened.” What’s more amazing is that they still do. Black men still have every legitimate reason to fear they will be killed when they are pulled over for minor infractions. Meanwhile, young white men can be caught in the act of rape and get away with very little in the way of repercussions.

In the spirit of John Lewis’s struggle, you owe it to your country and your community to go vote this November. There is a lot at stake in this election. Maybe your first choice of candidate didn’t make it through the primaries. Go vote anyway. Too many people died for your right to vote and to have a say in the way your country is governed, no matter what your background is.


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Birthday Weekend

Birthday petit-fours from my husband

Birthday petit-fours from my husband

It was my birthday this weekend. I have moved into a new demographic!

I decided I wanted to go to Northampton and Amherst for my birthday. There was a Poetry Festival in Amherst, but unfortunately, most of the events I wanted to go to were on Thursday or Friday before I could get there. Bummer. On Saturday, the Emily Dickinson House was sponsoring a marathon reading of all 1789 of her poems, but I really didn’t want to just dip in and out of that, so I wound up deciding to spend Saturday afternoon in Northampton.

Northampton and Amherst are college towns. Between the two of them, I count U Mass Amherst, Amherst College, Smith College, Mouth Holyoke College, and Hampshire College. I may be forgetting some. At any rate, they are close together, and with all those colleges, you can imagine the college-town vibe is strong. Northampton is definitely fairly funky, at least the downtown area.

We found a wonderful used bookstore. I loved it because the books were mostly in pristine condition. So many used bookstores don’t have really nice books, and most of them certainly don’t have the kind of selection Raven Used Books has. Here is my haul from Saturday.


We went back today before leaving for home, and I scored two more books: Mary Sharratt’s Illuminations and Elena Mauli Shapiro’s 13 Rue Thérèse. The Club Dumas looks like it might be perfect for the R. I. P. Challenge, and who knew that there was a historical fiction novel about Hildegard von Bingen (Illuminations)? Byatt’s novel doesn’t have great reviews on Amazon, but I’ll give it a go. I loved Possession so much.

For my birthday lunch, we went to a burger place called Local Burger. Back when I was in college, I could get an excellent hamburger for about a buck at the cafeteria on campus. It had a nice charbroiled flavor, and it was juicy without being pink (pink ground beef skeeves me out). I hadn’t had a burger as good as those old cheap cafeteria burgers since. Until this one. And the fries were amazing.

We drove into Amherst and stopped into Amherst Books where I found a remainder of Remembering Shakespeare by David Scott Kastan and Kathryn James and Living with Shakespeare edited by Susannah Carson with essays by so many people—F. Murray Abraham, Isabel Allende, Brian Cox, Ralph Fiennes, James Earl Jones, Maxine Hong Kingston, Jane Smiley, Joyce Carol Oates, and many others.

Last night for dinner, we had some excellent Italian food at Pasta e Basta. I was “that person” and took a picture of my pasta because it was so pretty.


I wish I could have brought my leftovers home. There was at least another meal left on that plate. I didn’t think it would travel well, though.

After dinner we picked up some cookies at Insomnia Cookies. Had such a thing existed when I was in college, I have no idea how big I’d be by now. We got four kinds of cookies, and I can definitely recommend the Double Chocolate Mint. I also tried Peanut Butter Chip, but the Chocolate Chunk and M&M cookies were all gone too fast.

This morning, we went to Jake’s for breakfast, and I had some fantastic eggs, potatoes, and toast. We walked around and did some more shopping. I found myself this glorious Brontë sisters mug with quotes from the sisters’ works.


Northampton and Amherst are nice places to visit, and they’re only a little over an hour away. They have a different feel from other places in Massachusetts—perhaps because they’re college towns, or perhaps because they’re in the western part of the state. We don’t really have indie bookstores in Worcester, either (that I know of)—just B&N, so it was nice to go book shopping in those places and score some deals on some great-looking new and used books. In addition, everything was pretty reasonably priced—another of the virtues of a college town, I suppose.


Steve and Dylan at dinner

Maggie and Me

Maggie and Me

Once I was home, Steve presented with two more books: A Loaded Gun: Emily Dickinson for the 21st Century by Jerome Charyn and The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a Fuck by Sarah Knight. He had already given me Emily Dickinson’s Poems: As She Preserved Them. My parents sent me a gift card for more goodies from Amazon, too. I really need to do some reading!

P. S. I have no idea why the last image is upside-down on some devices. I can’t figure out how to fix it without deleting and starting over, though, so I just left it.

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Doesn’t the R. I. P. Challenge make you feel like fall is finally coming? Fall has always been my favorite season, even when I was a girl. Ever since I was girl, it has felt like the real beginning of the year. Perhaps there is something to the holiday of Rosh Hashanah or even Samhain that makes more sense to me than New Years Eve, which is a holiday I have always disliked. Fall really feels like the beginning of the year to me. It could be that I’m a teacher, and I work to the rhythm of the school year. It has always seemed to me that each September brings new opportunities and a clean slate—a chance to start anew.

I don’t think I’m too different from many women in that I spent a great deal of my life worrying about myself, what people think of me, and whether I’m okay. It has taken a long time and a lot of work, as well as questioning a lot of what I was brought up and socialized to think, but I am finally becoming comfortable with myself. I could kick myself over how long it’s taken, or I could just be happy it is happening. I decided to do the latter. After all, I think plenty of people never arrive at that place. I do feel happier and more confident than I have in a long time. Perhaps ever. What a gift.

On the one hand, I wonder if my levothyroxine might have something to do with it. An underactive thyroid can cause depression symptoms (in addition to a whole host of other seemingly unrelated symptoms). I have now been on my medication for a month. I can’t remember the last time I felt so little anxiety. I am not sure I’d be me if I didn’t have some anxiety, but it’s been freeing to worry less.

I was socialized, like a lot of girls, to put others before myself. On some of the occasions when I have not done so, particularly as an adult, the repercussions, particularly from family, have been swift. I have spent a great deal of time—too much time—worrying about what other people think of me. Perhaps it is my approaching 45th birthday, but I just can’t do it anymore. I admit I admire some of these millennial women I see who have such strong ideas of who they are, of what is fair and equal treatment for women, of what they want. Perhaps it’s just a perception, and they feel the same inside as I always felt. It sure seems to me like their demands to be treated with respect are different from what I’ve seen in women of my generation and previous generations. I have come to realize that I really do need to take care of myself and that I need to see my own value. That doesn’t mean I need to be selfish. It means I need to love myself.

It’s hard to say that. That I love myself. It’s a new feeling. I have spent a lot of my life not really sure if I do love myself or if it was appropriate to feel that way about myself. I spent a lot of time doubting and second-guessing and worrying. I just don’t want to do it anymore. And it doesn’t really matter if I do because if I doubt and second-guess and worry, it doesn’t change what other people think about me anyway. So, in the end, there really isn’t much point in all the worrying.

I don’t know how it will change my relationships, or if it will, but I already sense a shift in my marriage. I feel closer to my husband. I’m also sensing a shift at work. Yes, I work hard, and give my job the attention it deserves. But I am trying, and succeeding more all the time, to leave my job at work and be more present at home.

I just feel different. I’m happy. It feels good.

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