Michiana Chronicles: A Valentine To Books

Feb 4, 2021


OK, Look—Whoops! This is radio. So, OK, listen. Well, maybe you don’t care to listen, I’m going to speak about books meaningful to me, so if this isn’t of interest to you, you have five minutes to go and do something else until something that does interest you comes along.

Credit Jeanette Saddler-Taylor

Not so long ago, Pastor Jeff Zell sent me a postcard. First off, the excitement of “real” mail rather than just adverts, bills, and appeals. Second, the watercolor picture on the card was of a bookstore in Reykjavic, Iceland. He asked in the message portion of the card if I had been there. Indeed, I had, and, although the books in our home are not completely organized, I went without too much trouble and located that book. I even had saved the receipt inside the front cover. William Morris wrote it in 1896 and it has an inscription from his daughter, May, to her “friend, Inga Magnusdottir.” It seems that the Morrises too loved Iceland. Now the postcard also is saved in the front of the book.

“The Secret of the Green Vase” by Frances Cooke was published in 1907 and owned by my maternal grandmother, Louella Raley. It contains a character named Hildegard who was admired by Grandmother. Thus, my mother’s name, Hilda even though we have no Scandinavian heritage. Another of my old book treasures although it came to me as an inheritance. They don’t all come from second-hand bookstores, although I seldom met a used bookstore that I didn’t like.

My copy of “A Room of One’s Own” by Virginia Woolf called to me while I was in a pokey little bookstore near the sea in Broadford on the Isle of Skye. It’s a first edition Hogarth Press copy. Secondhand bookstores are a lot like life, you never know what you’ll come upon, but it often delights.

While visiting Virginia’s contemporary, Vita Sackville-West’s home, Sissinghurst, as I exited through the gift shop, a 1929 copy of her lengthy poem, “The Land” beckoned this gardener to take it home for musing on “the mild continuous epic of the soil.”

Occasionally, one doesn’t have to wander at all for a rare old book to come into the collection. My friend, Carol McDonnell, gifted me with an 1894 illustrated edition of Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice.” In the front of its gilt-edged pages is an inscription by the illustrator. But before you even open the book, you know that it’s a treat because the dark blue leather binding is embossed in gold depicting a flamboyantly handsome peacock.

Out of the house, but closer than some of the bookstores in my memory is Black River Books in South Haven, MI. In addition to the water and some very pleasant restaurants, this site is always a must-stop on my visits to South Haven. The last time there, I came upon a book by a Florida author, Jerome Stern, “Radios: Short Takes on Life and Culture.” Published in 1997, shortly after his death, these micro-essays – about 2 minutes each – aired on both local and national NPR: an obvious must-buy for a Michiana Chronicler.

Closest of all to me, walking distance if it’s a perfect day and I feel like a longish-walk, is Erasmus Books on Wayne Street in South Bend. Over the years, Phillip has sent me away with maybe not tons, but a hefty amount of treasures. The Barbara Pym series is one of my favorites. They are more contemporary, set in the mid-century-modern time and could be described as comedies of manners: plots that my son characterizes as “nothing ever happens.” Not only are they good pandemic reading, but each has a different colored dust jacket with patterns reminiscent of Liberty of London prints. Very satisfying.

So, as Leonard Pitts says, “To have a platform is a privilege.” If you listened, thank you from Jeanette Saddler Taylor for Michiana Chronicles


Music: "Wrapped Up In Books" by Belle and Sebastian