Here’s a blog I wrote about a year ago, soon after a stellar visit to the library, and the occasion of the great writer Elizabeth Bishop’s birthday*:

Happy Birthday, EB!

“When I am reading a book, whether wise or silly, it seems to be alive and talking to me.”

- Anton Chekhov

Follow-up to last week’s library treasures. Rather than burble on about what a great haul it was, I’ll get straight to the point:

1. The Frozen Thames, by Helen Humphreys, is an enchanting collection of forty vignettes, one written for each time the River Thames has frozen since 1142. I’m a big fan of the vignette, and quite enjoy writing really short fiction. Just because it’s small, doesn’t mean it’s easy; in fact, the reverse is true. It’s a terrific challenge, conveying a lot of meaning in few words, and Helen Humphreys’ virtuosity lies in not only her doing so, but in painting vivid characters and scenes with a poet’s touch. It’s a great book, and beautifully illustrated. A cautionary tale about the importance of ice in the world.

2. Elizabeth Zimmermann is my new best friend. Her Knitting Without Tears  is at once pithy, wise, and informative; in fact, it’s downright inspiring. Her premise that human beings are built to accommodate a series of tubes, therefore eliminating the need for purl stitch and sewing seams (to do with knitting on circular needles, hooray!), has stolen my heart. EZ has me convinced that, not only can I knit a sweater that will actually fit the person it’s intended for, but that I can also knit a pair of socks. And believe me, that takes some doing! Too often I have gazed longingly at a pattern and, long before the halfway mark, been utterly defeated by it. Thanks to my new best friend, there’s hope for the chilly feet around here.

3. I am in awe of Elizabeth Bishop’s writing, since reading her Collected Prose. Her short story, In the Village, is as moving and perfect a work as any I have ever read, played, listened to, or looked at, and it had the same effect as any masterpiece of any genre. There are images and emotions that simply will not leave me, nor do I particularly want them to.

At the Elizabeth Bishop Birthday Bash on Sunday I closed my eyes and listened, enraptured, as people took turns reading her poetry. I shall certainly seek it out, especially her poem, Sandpiper. If the Elizabeth Bishop Society newsletter is anything to go by (and it is), the publication of EB’s 2008 Library of America volume Poems, Prose, and Letters (2008) is something for readers to celebrate. In addition to being a first-rate poet and prose writer, EB is touted as one of the greatest letter-writers of the twentieth century. This alone makes me put the new volume at the top of my birthday wish list. The wait-time on the library reserve list is far too long for my impatient heart.

February 10, 2009

2010 Update:

1. I am still a big fan of Helen Humphreys and recommend any of her books without hesitation. Matter of fact, when recently pressed to choose one for a friend to read, I couldn’t. I hope she’s reading them all.

2. Oddly, I’m re-reading Elizabeth Zimmermann’s books, enjoying them as much, if not moreso, now that I’m less of a gormless chicken more adventurous as a knitter. (After my first reading, I knitted four socks. I need never knit a sock again, but at least I’ve done it.) Recommended reading, still.

3. I am the proud owner of Elizabeth Bishop’s 2008 Library of America volumePoems, Prose, and Letters (2008). Shortly after the above blog was written, I hinted broadly enough that Someone made sure it was wrapped with a nice ribbon on the occasion of my birthday. It’s as beautiful a book as any I’ve seen, and one I’ve returned to again and again. Every page contains treasure.

*2011 will be the centenary of Elizabeth Bishop’s birth. There will be lots of great stuff going on in Nova Scotia to celebrate her life and her work. Have a look here.

Categories: General.