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Making a Home for a Connecticut Yankee

If you know my handwriting, you know I didn’t work on this

I spend a lot of time reading, on a desktop screen. Some of it is my own writing, some the works of others, fiction and non, the subjects often about writing and the arts. Too much is the dreary news of the day, which mostly equals the dreary news of yesterday and a good bet to equal the misery of days to come. And I read the occasional novel on an iPad too.

But I always read a physical book during the day (or night) as well. Even when I read a great piece of writing online, something that moves me or provokes me, even when I nod in concert with the thoughts, note a sharp sentence, promise to look at something else the author’s written, something yet is missing.

What’s missing is what I can hold in my hands: a “real” book. So I had a special thrill when my girlfriend Alice’s sister moved out of San Francisco and into the Napa area recently, and engaged us to box up her book collection. She has a couple of different collector’s editions of literary works, back and forward from the 18th century to the 20th, all bound in lovely leather, various sizes and colors. It was tremendous fun simply to move them from shelf to box and gape at their glory.

So when she gave me as a reward A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, one of Mark Twain’s farcical fancies, I was stoked. It’s a hefty book, though only 300 pages. But broad enough so you could put a big sandwich on it, a glass of beer, an apple and some pie and still sneak in some peanuts.

The book is from the Collector’s Edition of Famous Editions, published by Easton Press in Connecticut, fitting for something about a Connecticut Yankee. The work is richly illustrated by Honoré Guilbeau, with the kind of chapter-heading red-ink rubrics you might see in a medieval monk’s manuscript, beholding to the 6th-century setting of the novel. It came with a bookplate, a book ribbon, a nicely done small brochure on its composition, and an intro written by Carl Van Doren in 1946 that includes some musings on medieval times, plus some pungent biographical notes on Twain.

I’d already read (and laughed through) Connecticut Yankee a couple times—it’s vintage Twain, railing against imperial estates and trappings, while throwing in many an inventive absurdity of the “fish out of water” type, though this big fish in this instance is shrewdly capable.

But it’s this book’s bookishness I want to remark on: such a pleasure to touch and smell its leather, flip through its flamboyant pages, feel its heft, admire its careful typography and design. However, it doesn’t take a collector’s edition of anything for me to take to a book like a fish in water. The paperback novel I’m reading right now (Ordinary Grace, by William Kent Krueger) and the nonfiction hardcover (Surviving Paradise, by Peter Rudiak-Gould) I’m stepping through—both appealing books, those solid, unflappable transports to other worlds.

And good for putting on the bedside table and putting your glasses on top of at retiring time.

I published a piece on Medium a bit ago about how my mom’s obvious love of reading when I was a kid influenced my path in life; I expressed in more detail my feelings about books there.

Many are the benefits of electronic reading, but a book will always feel more like a friend to me.

How about you? Electrons or paper?

Linkability

Here are a couple of my recent articles, followed by some from other writers, mostly on the mental health front, and which have been helpful in these unhelpful times.

Purple Prose and the Word Surgeon’s Scalpel

Unconsciously using too many “justs,” “verys,” “actuallys,” and other fluff evildoers in your prose? Cast them out! And those big words too. (Well, not all of them. Some are fetching.) Published by the fine folks at WriterUnboxed in August 2021.

What One Distillery Did To Gain A New Whiskey Still With A Grand History

My piece on Stumpy’s Spirits, a small Illinois distillery that recently bought a large amount of 100-year-old still components—from Belgium, off the internet—and has reconstructed them for their own use. These guys did a whole lotta work. Published in August 2021 by the WhiskeyWash newsletter.

Other Writers Posts

Five Small, Achievable Steps To Improving Your Wellbeing
“Being kind to another provides us with a sense of fulfilment, even if that is on a small level,” says Dr Charlotte Armitage, a Harley Street psychologist and psychotherapist. “Where we project kindness, this is usually reciprocated. This results in a feeling of connectedness, which encourages the release of oxytocin and dopamine in the brain. Both of these chemicals help us to feel good.”

How to Sleep Better: 5 Hacks for More Rest and Less Stress
“Sleep is probably the single most important health behavior we do every day,” Prichard says. “Pretty much all systems are enhanced when you get enough sleep and are impaired when you don’t get enough.”

10 things you can do now to save our planet
Resist excessive consumption: We do not need all those possessions. Buy less, and buy better. Reject the idea that consumption makes us happier and that we must always have new things to enhance our lives.

Our Brains Aren’t Built to Handle This Much Bad News
“There’s a ton of lifestyle stuff that will obviously help, too (exercise, healthy food, sleep). But more important than all that is monitoring your relationship to the news. Quit the doomscrolling. It’s not helping. It’s like a drive-by on your brain; no wonder you can’t wrap your head around 650,000 deaths, or a house that’s had its roof ripped off, if you’re staring for six seconds or so before moving on to the next thing.”

Improve A Low Mood With These 6 Ideas
“Walk. Often, our negative, repetitive thought-loops can be interrupted simply by a change in scenery combined with gentle exercise. A walk outside accomplishes both.”

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8 thoughts on “Making a Home for a Connecticut Yankee

  1. As a Connecticut Yankee, I shamefully have never read the book, but now I’m going to contemplate finding some time in my already overloaded schedule to look for a copy. I haven’t been to Norwalk either, but it is one of the train stops on the Metro North from New Haven to New York that is only $30 round trip that drops you off at Grand Central Station. The scenery is truly beautiful. When this pandemic is over, if you want a tour of Connecticut, I would be honored to be your guide, Tom.

  2. Steven, I would absolutely love to be squired about by you in Connecticut (but does it include hot buttered lobster roll?). The New England states are the only states I haven’t visited in the US, though not from lack of interest. I’ll let you know when I have the right outfits. Hope you and your family are well, and thanks for stopping by!

  3. Me! Me! Pick me! I can haz lobzteroll?

    Most of my reading is on my tablet these days because I can borrow books from the library without leaving my house. Or going into a library. Or anywhere else. And I can enlarge the text so I can read without glasses.

    But I have a collection of books, physical paper objects, that I love, for various reasons. I recently shipped my collection of library editions of Dick Francis, about half his entire output, to my sister, with a single caveat: if she ever parts with them, I am not to hear of it. Do as you will, just don’t tell me.

  4. Yes, there are giant conveniences to tablet reads, including not having to pack bulky books when traveling, an advantage I’ve enjoyed. I seem to read more nonfiction on a tablet, though still prefer nonfiction books, unless they are short, on paper. As for fiction, something about paper, even the sound/feeling of flipping pages, and the words on the page, seem better in print. I like a book book.

    But man, my eyes are going too, and trying to enlarge the text on a print book by pinching and squeezing open just doesn’t seem to do anything.

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