Volume XV, Issue One | March 2019
We all know about the clean-out guru Marie Kondo. She’s the author of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Because of her, thousands of women are purging their homes of clutter and dragging garbage bags of discards to the Goodwill. I admit that after hearing about her, I went through my closet and tossed out those size six jeans that I will never wear again—well, ok, the size eights, too—and shoes with heels more than an inch high.
I even took a good look at my house to see what I could get rid of. After all, my home is so cluttered with antiques and art and Indian objects and, well, junk, that everything had to be rearranged after I gave Bob a picture for Christmas. But I like that stuff. I can remember when I acquired every object in the house—the Mickey Mouse kachina that came from a now-closed neighborhood shop, the candlesticks that I bought in Italy, the clay model of a flaming Mt. Vesuvius that Forrest made for me. Maybe the fake flowers can go, and I don’t need the candle that was such a great buy at TJ Maxx. I could do a little purging. Perhaps Ms. Kondo is right.
Then I heard that she tells readers to get rid of books, to keep the number of books in the house to no more than 40. What? Just 40 books? I have more than 40 books just on quilts. I have another 40 stacked up on the floor that I read as a judge for Western Writers of America’s Spur Award. And I have twice that number about slang and language. Good lord! My collection of my own books in hardcover and paperback, along with foreign editions is more than 40. Why would I limit my entire book collection to two-score volumes?
I consider myself judicious about keeping books. I give away almost all the books I review for my column in the Denver Post. When we moved six years ago, I gave away, threw out, or sold a couple thousand books stored in the basement. Big mistake since I want some back. I admit I don’t miss the Colorado scenic picture books that I probably read only once. Ditto with self-help books. Did I really buy them? But why did I have to get rid of the book on Virginia City, Mont., or the one on Victorian herbal cures. I could have used both of them when I wrote The Last Midwife. I never know what I’m going to write about next. I almost ditched the books on the Overland Trail, thinking I’d never write about a wagon train going to California. Thank goodness I didn’t. I used them when I researched my upcoming book, Westering Women.
Even if my books aren’t for research, they’re valuable. I love leafing through books on quilts—I read them like other women read cookbooks—and on decorating. What would the Bride’s House be without books in the shelves? And when I’m down or conflicted, I pull out one of Anne Lamott or Jane Kirkpatrick’s volumes.
I’m not a book collector. I don’t care if an edition is a first or fifth, and although I treasure books signed by authors who are friends, I wouldn’t pay even a dollar more for a signed book from a writer I don’t know personally. Paperbacks are fine with me. My copy of The Catcher in the Rye is a paperback held together by tape that belonged to my mother. I treasure books not for themselves but for what’s in them. And I don’t think of books as decorator items. A decorator once removed the dust jackets from some of my books and arranged them in shelves by the color of the bindings. They looked good, but after she left, I put the book jackets back on.
Nobody’s going to tell me to limit my books to 40. Every one of these hundreds, probably thousands, of books on my shelves bring me joy. In fact, I’m planning a trip to Ikea to buy another bookcase.
Hardscrabble Wins A Wrangler
Hardscrabble, my third mid-grade novel, just won this year’s Wrangler Award for juvenile fiction from the National Cowboy Museum & Western Heritage Museum! This is my third Wrangler—I won one in 1980 for Sacred Paint and the second in 1912 for The Quilt Walk. Maybe I ought to be blasé, but instead I’m thrilled and deeply honored. This is such a grand award. It will be presented at a two-day event in April in Oklahoma City. I am grateful to the people at Sleeping Bear Press, especially my editor, Barb McNally, who worked hard on this book.
Two New Books
A couple of years ago, I wrote about the book I’d spent two years writing that didn’t work. I wondered if this was it. Were my writing days really over? Not yet, as it turns out. I have two books coming out in the next year. Someplace to Call Home is the story of three orphans in Depression-era Kansas. It’s a mid-grade book and will be published by Sleeping Bear Press in August. My upcoming adult novel, Westering Women, is scheduled for next winter. The publisher is St. Martin’s Press. I’ll tell you about them in future issues of Piecework.
By Benjamin Dreyer.
If you love language, you have to read this book! Written by Random House’s chief copy editor, it’s subtitled “An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style.” We all write, whether it’s books or love letters or notes to our kid’s teacher, and this book is a clever, enormously funny guide to proper usage. It deals with prepositions (OK to end a sentence with one), punctuation, the use of sic (his example is a Donald Trump tweet), infinitives (you can split them), and my favorite hang-up—whether “all right” is one or two words. (Two, please.) Dreyer says to stop using “quite,” “very,” and “in fact.” And for those of us who were taught in junior high typing class to use two spaces after a period at the end of a sentence—stop! Computers don’t require that. I had superb English teachers all through school, who taught diagramming and grammar, and as a result, I love the nuances of English. Dreyer’s English is my new favorite book.
That Churchill Woman
By Stephanie Barron.
I’ve always been fascinated by Jennie Jerome, the daughter of a fabulous wealthy New Yorker who married Randolph Churchill and gave birth to Winston Churchill eight months later. Stephanie Barron (aka Francine Mathews) writes a compelling novel about Jennie and the love of her life. He wasn’t Dandy Randy, who was gay and had syphilis, but Lord Charles Kinsky, an Austrian. They never married. Jennie refused to leave her husband even though in the throes of madness, he tried to kill her. And in fact, she married twice after his death, to men young enough to be her sons. That doesn’t keep Barron, author of the wonderful Jane Austen mysteries, from pinpointing Kinsky as Jennie’s great love and writing a love story for the ages.
Lost Department Stores of Denver
By Mark Barnhouse.
The History Press.
I know, a lot of you don’t live in Colorado and haven’t the faintest interest in the department stores that we loved and lost here. But for those of you who remember them, this is a nostalgic look at the past when we dressed in hats and gloves for a shopping trip downtown. The book is particularly memorable for me. My friend’s grandmother was the hostess at the Denver Dry Tearoom, I worked at Daniels & Fisher and then the Denver Dry warehouse during college, and my first job after I graduated was doing publicity for Neusteter’s. My wedding dress came from the May-D&F, my china from the Denver, and my cutlery from Neusteter’s. I refused to shop at Joslin’s after the store cancelled my credit card when I married and sent an application to Bob. Lost Department Stores chronicles the plight of many of America’s retail emporiums, from their start in the 19th century, through consolidation and bankruptcy, and finally to their death due to debt and the inability to compete with low-cost outlets and the internet.