February House: The Story of W. H. Auden, Carson McCullers, Jane and Paul Bowles, Benjamin Britten, and Gypsy Rose Lee, Under One Roof in Brooklyn
Mariner Books (July 26, 2016), 336 pages
Originally published in 2005
Kindle edition $13.29, Amazon paperback $9.29
Borrowed for free with Prime Reading membership
I always enjoy reading about literary communities, so when I saw February House on sale for $2.99 in an Early Bird Books email I thought I would enjoy reading it. But wait, I realized as I pulled it up on Amazon, I have already read this book. I read it when it first came out in hardcover in 2005. I looked at the Amazon listing and I saw that it was a Prime Reading title, meaning that as a Prime member I could borrow the book and read it at no cost.
At that price I decided it was worth rereading. I was not disappointed.
George Davis was fired from his job as editor at Harper’s Bazaar magazine. To make ends meet he rented a house at 7 Miggdah Street in Brooklyn and invited writers and artists to move in and share in the expenses.
This was just at the start of World War II and there were enough creative types at loose ends to make the experiment work. The poet W.H. Auden moved in as did novelist Carson McCullers. The famous stripper Gypsy Rose Lee rented a suite, and composer Benjamin Britten with his lover Peter Pears lived there. Author and composer Paul Bowles and his wife Jane spent time in the house as well.
People came and went, but the house was a lively place of interaction, discussion, and conversation. Davis was an ineffective landlord and a poor manager of expenses, so he was happy when Auden stepped in to manage the accounts. He missed Auden when Auden spent a year away at Ann Arbor.
Things fell apart after Pearl Harbor, and the house was demolished in 1945 to make way for a thoroughfare. But for one brief shining moment 7 Miggdah Street was something of a literary lighthouse.
I can’t look at that long, cumbersome subtitle without thinking about the opening of “Seventy Six Trombones” in The Music Man where Robert Preston declaims, “And you’ll feel something akin to the electric thrill I once enjoyed when Gilmore, Liberatti, Pat Conway, The Great Creatore, W.C. Handy and John Phillip Sousa all came to town on the very same historic day.” But there is, in fact, something akin to the thrill of that fictional event in the quite real house on Miggdah Street and its residents, as this book so clearly describes. Anaïs Nin referred to the place as February House because several of the residents had birthdays in February, hence giving Tippins her title.
If you find this literary crowd interesting I suspect that you will discover February House hard to put down.
To the Island of Tides: A Journey to Lindisfarne
Narrated by David Rintoul
Naxos AudioBooks, August 01, 2019
$14.21 for Audible members, more for non-members
purchased with an Audible credit
Alistair Moffat spent many years in the television business in the United Kingdom until he decided to take early retirement so he could live on his farm while researching and writing history.
Moffat was fascinated by the life of Saint Cuthbert, who lived in the early 600’s. Cuthbert was an aristocrat who chose to become a monk. He first lived in the region near Moffat’s farm in Southern Scotland at a place called Old Melrose. He then retreated to the Island of Lindisfarne, just off the coast, a place accessible via a causeway at low tide.
Moffat hikes both the Old Melrose countryside and Lindisfarne, trying to get a sense of who Cuthbert was and what the saint might have to say to him. He describes his hikes, reflects on his own life nearing age seventy, and offers ample biographical material on Cuthbert as well as plenty of historical context. All of this is woven together into an eminently readable (listenable) narrative.
The book is masterfully read by David Rintoul who, with his distinguished British accent, effectively channels Moffat’s thoughts and emotions. Moffat insists that he is an atheist and not a man of faith, but I for one found much in To the Island of Tides to be spiritually uplifting.
As you may remember reading here, I was delighted when we got our new stove with a convection oven a little over a year ago. I immediately got back into bread baking. Once I was in the routine again I stopped following recipes and began to wing it. I knew the correct proportions, so the loaves I baked turned out anywhere from OK to really good.
Recently I had just gotten my King Arthur order, for which I had to wait an unusually long time due to our COVID-19 world. I had ordered two bags of artisanal bread flour and I wanted to do something a little special.
I pulled out my copy of Rustic European Bread from Your Bread Machine, which I believe was out of print for a while, but seems to be available again, and in fact now has a second edition. I have not used a bread machine since our Gilroy kitchen remodel in 2007, but I use the book’s ingredients and proportions and then make bread the traditional way with my KitchenAid stand mixer and convection oven. I selected the recipe for pain de mie, French street bread. I used (a bit less than) half King Arthur artisan bread flour and (a bit more than) half generic grocery store bread flour.
The loaf turned out well. Terry loved it.
Some days it works out well when you follow the rules.
Dorothy Day: Dissenting Voice of the American Century
John Loughery and Blythe Randolph
Narrated by Cassandra Campbell
Simon & Schuster Audio, March 03, 2020
$19.84 for Audible members, more for non-members
purchased with an Audible credit
To say that this biography is comprehensive is an understatement. The print edition is 442 pages and the unabridged audiobook is over seventeen hours. The authors document Dorothy Day from her birth to her death after a long and productive life.
The book is far from a hagiography. I was tempted to write that Day was no saint, but in fact her canonization is very much in process today, as the postscript to the book documents. I will simply say that Dorothy Day had her faults and this biography does not try to hide them.
Her younger adult life was spent at various jobs, many of them in journalism. She was drawn to left-leaning publications and was skilled as a reporter and writer. She always had an attraction to religion in general and Catholicism in particular but was never quite sure what to do with that attraction. It was only after her daughter Tamar was born that she fully embraced Catholicism. And it was only after meeting the French transient and philosopher Peter Maurin that she found her vocation. He had a vision of a newspaper focused on social justice and of a place where the poor and dispossessed could find shelter. Her conversations with Maurin finally spurred the the founding of the newspaper The Catholic Worker and the establishment of St. Joseph’s House in New York.
The authors describe how Day felt that everyone should be welcome at her houses of hospitality (others sprang up across the country) and how she insisted that, unlike other similar organizations, there were to be no consequences for failure to pitch in and work or to follow the rules. Day was also a horrible mother and pretty much neglected her daughter, which resulted in much misery Tamar’s adult life.
Nonetheless she was at the forefront of the anti-war movement and the fight against racial and economic inequality. On the other hand, she had no tolerance for homosexuality, while ironically multiple dedicated workers at St. Joseph’s House and The Catholic Worker were gay or lesbian. They simply knew not to raise the subject.
Dorothy Day encountered and was admired by some of the most highly visible activists and spiritual leaders of the twentieth century, including Abbie Hoffman, the Berrigan clan, Caesar Chavez, and Thomas Merton.
Day was a complex woman, and the authors provide a nuanced and complete profile of her life and personality. The audiobook is capably read by Cassandra Campbell, who narrates the material in a highly listenable manner, making it sound as if it were her own.
Square Haunting: Five Writers in London Between the Wars
Tim Duggan Books (April 7, 2020), 383 pages
Kindle edition $13.99, Amazon hardcover $19.23
This is a lively account of five women who lived in the Mecklenburgh Square area of London, at the edge of the Bloomsbury district.
The poet Hilda Doolittle, who published her work under the moniker H.D. lived there. Dorothy L. Sayers of Lord Peter Whimsey fame lived there, as did the classicist Jane Harrison. The other two Mecklenburgh Square residents discussed in the book are economic historian Eileen Power and Virginia Wolf with her husband Leonard.
Some of these writers lived in the district for only a brief time. Jane Harrison lived there for a long while at the end of her life. The Woolf’s brief time there was marred by the second world war and they spent what time they could in their country home until Virginia’s suicide in the middle of the war.
None of these women ever really encountered the other, although Sayers occupied the same boarding house room in which H.D. once lived.
Square Haunting provides some valuable insight into the contributions these women made to literature and academia of the first half of the twentieth century.
May 6th of this year marked five years of Terry, Tasha, and me being in this house. For pretty much all of that time Tuesday has been my yard work day. Wednesday is our trash day, and we have separate Toters for trash, recycling, and yard waste, so it made sense to fill the yard waste Toter on Tuesday. After all, that allowed me to get some exercise, and I was comfortable that the yard waste gods were appeased.
Terry, however, decided that our front and back yards had become far too overgrown, and that the task of cleaning it all up was way beyond our ability to undertake. At first she had difficulty getting the attention of a gardener who was willing to do the job, but on a recent Saturday she saw a crew doing work across the street. The owner of the business gave her a quote that she was comfortable with and the crew was here the next Saturday.
To say that they did a thorough job is an understatement, as you can see. That’s all good, but it means that I won’t have Tuesday yard work as a way of getting some exercise for quite some time. And the yard waste gods? They will have to go without their offerings from us for a while.
That’s simply how things go sometimes.