A Passion for Reading

Several items about books:

Stephen Levy writes in his Newsweek cover story on the Kindle and Jeff Bezos:

“When making mental lists of the most whiz-bangy technological creations in our lives, […] we may overlook an object that is superbly designed, wickedly functional, infinitely useful and beloved more passionately than any gadget in a Best Buy: the book.”

Elizabeth Hardwick, a Kentucky-born writer who died last week in NY, said this:

“The greatest gift is a passion for reading. It is cheap, it consoles, it distracts, it excites, it gives you knowledge of the world and experience of a wide kind. It is moral illumination.”

A remembrance of Hardwick, titled “The Bohemian from Kentucky“, appeared in the Louisville Courier Journal newspaper last weekend. Hardwick along with her then husband, the poet Robert Lowell, were among the founders of the “New York Review of Books,” which got its start during a newspaper strike in NY.

Levenger, whose tagline is “Tools for Serious Readers”, offered a tempting holiday gift: a limited-edition reproduction of the Grimani Breviary, an illuminated manuscript of 1520.

Breviaries have another important place in history … : they marked the early days of making books for a single reader. (They were shorter books than the communal ones, hence their name‚Äîan abbreviation, or summary.)

Unfortunately, the Breviary appears to be sold out at Levenger.

The recent New York Times Book Review podcast introduced me to the book “Little Heathens“, an Iowa farm memoir by Mildred Armstrong Kalish, an 85-year-old, first-time author. The Times picked it as one of the best books of 2007. It also sounds like a book for the readers of Make.

From the book’s home page:

I have noticed a resurgence of public interest in the rural matters where people yearn to engage in satisfying activities that have direct meaning in their lives. Perhaps this is because our current national and international challenges result in individuals feeling helpless and disconnected. My book tells of a life of total involvement.

Little Heathens’ focus is on how my siblings and I were raised on a working farm in Iowa by aging grandparents (photo) imbued with Puritan values and the Protestant work ethic, while our somewhat different and indifferent mother did her insufficient best to rear us…

Our farm had no running water, no central heat, and no electricity. Above all, we had no money. Side-by-side, the adults integrated all of the children into the work force. My three siblings and I — along with our cousins who lived on a farm directly across the road — had a part in practically every aspect of making the family and the farm a successful operation. My book relates what and how we lived and learned in that very challenging world so that my story is also a how-to manual — how to scrub a pig’s head in preparation for making head- cheese, how to tame a raccoon, how to plant potatoes, and how to wean a calf.

Ms. Kalish remarks in the podcast that growing up on a farm taught her dependability, resourcefulness, and, above all, thrift. I’ve ordered copies for myself and for others as a holiday gift.

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