Best Gift Ever

A few months ago, I was reading ‘Frontier Wolf’ by Rosemary Sutcliff, a historical novel about a Roman army officer sent to England to command a fort on the Antonine Wall.  I’ve been reading a lot of children’s books and young adult books lately. Mostly so I can then have Mr. C read the good ones once he’s old enough to read them, but also because I missed out on a lot of good books when I was a kid.

A few pages in the style reminded me of a book I had read when I was a kid.  What was the name of that book?   The more I read, the more it bothered me.  It reminded me so much of a book I had read when I was about ten years old.  Then I remembered that I didn’t finish that book. I had to return it to the library before I was done. This was years before libraries offered renewals of books.  Once three weeks were up, you had to return the book or get fined.   What was the title of that book, and was it really a Rosemary Sutcliff book ?  At about the same time I read an article in the Wall Street Journal about the science of memory.  There’s actually a German word for this experience.  The zeigarnuk effect, which is what happens when unfinished thoughts or activities weigh on the mind more than those that have been completed.

First,  I checked a list of all the books she wrote.  From the titles alone nothing seemed familiar.  I did remember a few details of the plot though.  There were two children living in a village in England where the towns people were preparing for an invasion of Vikings, and I remembered that there was a Viking holding a shield on the cover. A Google search of “Sutcliff Viking book”  brought up the familiar book cover that I was trying to remember from forty or so years ago, “The Shield Ring”.

Apparently it is a difficult book to find in the U.S., at least in the hardcover edition that I remember.  It was first published in 1956 and appeared in hardcover in only one edition, most of which went to the library market. Oh well, I thought, I guess I’ll never find that book, I thought.

Months later, a package arrives in the mail.

A gift from Ms. J for my birthday.

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

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Here’s a quick review of one of the books on Mr. C’s shelf.  He thinks it’s hilarious that I’ve been reading the books we’ve accumulated for him, but I like to check out books before he reads them to see if they’re any good first.

‘When You Reach Me’, by Rebecca Stead, published 2009, it was awarded the Newberry Award in 2010.  This is the story of Miranda, a sixth grader living  with her single Mother.  We’re introduced to her routine, her walk to school, the places she likes to go, her group of friends.  All with a great deal of details of the time and setting, New York City in the mid 1970’s, which should appeal to any adult who lived through that time.  Amanda’s mother tries to become a contestant on the TV game show ‘The $20,000 Pyramid’, which I remember being a big hit when I was a kid.  There’s also plenty of details of how hard it was to be a single parent in the 70’s, such as deciding what to make for dinner or paying the rent.  Amanda  starts to receive mysterious notes, placed in her room by she does not know who.  From the way they are written it becomes apparent that something strange is going on. The notes seem to be written in odd verb tenses, were they written in the past, and she is just finding them now ?  Or is it possible that they are from the future ?

“I am coming to save your friend’s life, and my own.
I must ask two favors. First, you must write me a letter.”

Miranda then tries to figure out who is leaving these notes for her, carefully questioning her classmates without seeming to be a crazy person.  As a subplot, she is also trying to figure out why her friend Sal was punched while walking home from school, by another kid that neither of them know, for apparently no reason.  Hmm… maybe those two stories will meet up by the end of the book. If you’ve seen a few episodes of ‘The Twilight Zone’ you’ll probably figure out the mystery fairly quickly, but I doubt that a kid will figure it out.   Rebecca Stead references the classic ‘A Wrinkle in Time’ throughout the book, both as Amanda’s favorite book, and in a variety of plot points.  This is good and bad in that it gives so much away to the adults who are reading it, but for a kid I’m guessing that it just adds to the mystery, and could lead them to read that book as well if they have not already.

This is the type of children’s book that will most likely make a strong impression on middle grade kids. There are books I read years ago that I’ve bought for Mr. C, some of which he likes and some have barely registered for him.  Must be a generational thing, there are just some books that become classics, but maybe just for those people who read them when they were published.   An older kid than Mr. C, maybe age 8 or so, will read and remember this as their favorite book.  For adults reading it to their kids, while they might appreciate the period details, they’ll probably prefer the book that made that big impression on them when they were eight, such as ‘A Wrinkle in Time’.

This is a bit too advanced for Mr. C for now, it’s probably a good fit for kids aged 8 and up. Especially those who like things like ‘A Wrinkle in Time’.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bob, Son of Battle

I didn’t really read a lot when I was a kid.  I could read, of course, but I didn’t really start a habit of reading on a continual basis until I was at least a teenager.  So, since I missed out on a lot of the books that are written primarily for children, I’ve been reading a lot of “Young Adult” books lately, both old books and newly published ones as well.  Once I find good ones I read them to Mr. C, or if they are too advanced for him now, I’ll at least keep track of them to read to him when he is older.

Recently, while browsing the remainder table of a bookstore,  I came across some children’s books published by New York Review Books.  NYRB specializes in reprinting neglected and out of print fiction, mostly adult fiction, but they do also have a large selection of books for children.  One of the books on the remainder table was Bob, Son of Battle by Alfred Ollivant.  From the cover, it appeared to be a story about a dog, and since Mr. C loves dogs, and I usually like books from this publisher, I bought it.

Once I came home, Ms. J told me that she thought that she might have an old copy of the book in a box somewhere. I thought I’d compare the two editions and was amazed that I actually found the original in our stack of boxes in the garage.    Here they are, old and new.

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I thought I would just have to compare how the books were published, book nerd things like differences in the illustrations, and fonts,  but then I saw the note on the front cover of the new edition “A new edition by Lydia Davis”.   It seems that the new edition is a “reinterpretation” of the original book by Alfred Ollivant.  According to a blurb on the back cover, Lydia Davis has “rendered the challenging idioms of the original into fluent and graceful English of our day.”.    When I bought the new edition, I didn’t know anything about the book or the author.  I’ve since learned that it was a popular children’s book when it was first published in 1898, there is also a sequel ‘Danny’, published in 1902.  The dialogue is written in the dialect of the setting, Northern England area of Cumbria.   I then assumed that any changes to the original, more than 100 year old children’s book, would only be to make the dialog easier to read.

Here’s a sample of some dialog from the original, the speaker is a farmer who is bragging about his dog, the title character, Bob:

“G’long, Sam’l Todd!” he cried. “Yo’ never happy unless yo making’ yo’self miser’ble. I niver see such a chap. Never win agin?  Why, oor young Bob he’ll mak’ a right un. I tell yo’, and I should know. Not as what he’ll touch Rex son o’ Rally, mark ye! I’m niver saying’ so, Sam’l Todd. Ah, he was a one, was Rex. I could tell yo’ a tale or two o’ Rex.

At first, it can be a bit hard to understand, but imagine reading it aloud to a six year old. You can’t help but read it in the same dialect, waving your arms around acting like the farmer in the story. At least that’s what I do!

And now here’s the same passage in the new edition:

“Come, come Samuel Todd!” he cried. “You’re never happy unless you’re making yourself miserable. I’ve never seen such a chap. Never win again?  Why, our young Bob will be a fine example, I tell you, and I should know. Not that he’ll be anything like as great as Rex, son of Rally, mind you!

I can see why they “updated’ the dialogue.  The updated version is easier to read, I suppose.  Though there’s no acting required here to show the character of the speaker, you can just easily read the updated dialog. Definitely easier, but a bit bland. Sometime it will also loose the true meaning when it is updated.  Here’s a passage that was updated, most likely for political correctness; “A proper Gray Dog, I tell yo’.  Wi’ the brains of a man and the way of a woman. Ah, yo’ canna beat ’em nohow, the Gray Dogs o’ Kenmuir!”  The updated version reads;  “A proper Gray Dog, I tell you. As clever as any person, and as gentle as the spring sunshine. Ah, you can’t beat ’em, the Gray Dogs of Kenmuir!”.   The meaning is just about the same, but also not really the same.

Only the dialogue in the original could be considered difficult to read. The rest of the book is written in fairly standard prose of the time.  Maybe the changes to the dialog would be OK, if that was the only thing changed, but unfortunately it is not.  It seems as though the whole book has been rewritten, not just the dialog, but words, descriptions, entire paragraphs are changed.

Old:

‘In the kitchen, a long room with a red-tiled floor and latticed windows, a woman, white aproned and frail faced, was bustling about her morning business.”

New:

‘The kitchen was a long room with a floor of red tiles and windows covered in patterns of crisscrossing ironwork. In it, a woman in a white apron with a delicate face was bustling about her morning work.’

I don’t get it, is “latticed” a hard word to understand ?

One more example, the farmer’s wife is encouraging a neighbor boy to have breakfast:

“I welly thowt yo’d forgot us this mornin’. Noo sit you’ doon, beside oor Maggie.”  And soon he, too was engaged in a task twin to the girl’s.

New version:

“I really thought you’d forgot us this morning. Now you sit down beside our Maggie.” And soon he was bending over his own bowl of bread and milk.

What’s wrong with ‘engaged in a task twin to the girl’s.’?   I think if a kid is reading this, and has made it this far into the book, it’s only page 7, then they probably can figure it out.  The new version has completely removed the style of the old.  All of the examples above are taken from just the first eight pages of the book.  Oh well, no returns on remainder books.   I think I’ll stick with the old version.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Found in a book

We have a lot of old books in the house, most of which we acquired at used bookstores or library book sales. They’re not very valuable, most of the time used books stores will sell them for a dollar or two, and library book sales will sometimes jut give them away.  Something I like to do is check to see if there is any writing or dedication in the book by a previous owner. This seems to be much more common in older books than it is now.  More often than not there will be a gift note or some kind of message written on the title page.  It seems to have Here’s a few of the more interesting things I’ve found.

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Mostly, the notes are just signatures of the previous owner.  If the name is unusual I try to Google it, but since the books are so old I usually don’t find much.  Here’s one that I did find something about.  In a 1912 edition of the Baedeker travel guide for Belgium and Holland is written the name and address of a previous owner; Horace Morison, 8 Bishopsgate Street, London.  I bought the book at a used book store here in New Hampshire, so I wondered how a book that was owned by someone in London ended up here.  Since the name would seem to be uncommon, I did a search and found a Horace Morison who was from New Hampshire. He  graduated from Harvard with a degree in Law, later in life he worked for the American Red Cross in London.

 

Here’s the list of places he was planing to visit in Belgium and Holland.

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I like the old maps in Baedeker guides.


Here’s another one

‘Harry   From Mamma   Merry Xmas 1897’

 

Here’s another one that I found something out about.  This book was given to John D Davis from the Tribune for his prize winning letter.     Since Mr. Davis had written his address in the book on a different page, I found out that he lived in the Chicago area.  A brief story about him in his local paper from 1941 explained that he had once been a  textile importer who made several trips to Burma and India during the 1930’s, but he could no longer make his sales trip since WWII had made trips to that area impossible.

Who can write like this now ?  Cursive writing is just not being taught like it used to be.

Here’s a book that was given to a student for his penmanship.  It’s in an old children’s book.

 

However, the penmanship of this note is not as clear.  Someone named Finch received this book as a Christmas gift in 1937 from his cousin May.

 

Here’s the best penmanship of them all.

Prof. C.E. Lord from Joseph C Sibley Jr. Christmas 1904.

The bad news is that the used book store that we found most of these books has recently closed, so our source of inexpensive old books is now gone!

 

Ikea Built-in Bookcase Part 2

See that gap on the bottom of the bookcase base ?  That’s there because the floor is not level in our 112 year old house.


It’s not very noticable, though a marble will roll across the floor if placed at the baseboard.  That gap is about 1/4 inch high, just the right height for Mr. C to loose a lego under.

When he dropped the lego and it skipped under the bookcase, he was very upset.  Will it be stuck under there forever like a time capsule, he wondered.  I didn’t see it happen, so I didn’t know what kind of lego piece it was.  Some of those pieces are very small, some are large, some are important and are needed to complete the lego model, others aren’t that important and a substitute can be found instead.  C said it was an important piece.

First, I tried a standard foot long ruler.  Moving it around, trying to move the lego piece to the edge of the wooden base.  All I was able to do was push it further away, down into the back of the base.  I tried a long pice of paper next.  That didn’t have the stiffness of the ruler to get under the piece.  Again, I just only managed to push it further away.  The dust jacket of a book didn’t work either.  Mr. C went out to the backyard to look for a stick.

I then remembered that I had a much longer ruler, a three foot metal ruler.   After about a half hour of moving that ruler around in the gap, out popped the lego piece.

An important piece.    I’ll have to finish this bookcase soon or there will be a time capsule of small lego pieces under it.

Ikea Built-in Bookcase – Part 1

Something that we have had on our list of home improvement projects for years is for me to make a built-in bookcase.     Our house is more than 100 years old, and it has two built-in bookcases on the first floor, so it would fit in well with the style of the house.  Mr. C also has a growing collection of books, so his room would be the best candidate for adding in a bookcase.  However, I’ve been ignoring this list item since I have very limited carpentry skills, so I thought it would probably never happen.

Then Ms. J came across an article showing how you can take one or several Ikea bookcases and convert them into built-in by making a wooden base, attaching the bookcases to the wall, and then adding wood molding around the top and sides.  Then you paint the wooden base and molding to match the bookcase.    The article made it seem easy.

So we took a trip to the closest Ikea store in Stoughton, Massachusetts, where we looked for the bookcase mentioned in the article.  All Ikea products have a name, sometimes it is vaguely Scandinavian, sometimes not.  Some of the names for their bookcases include; Finny, Gnedby, Hemnes, and Klimpen.  The bookcase style we needed is named ‘Billy’.  The ‘Billy’ comes in several sizes, horizontal, vertical, tall, short.  To fit in the space we had in mind, we needed three Billy bookcases that were each about six feet tall, and fourteen inches wide.  For the low price of just $50 each, we found the ones we needed.

Once we left the store, we had to figure out how to get the three long flat boxes that were more than six feet long into the car.  We spent about a half hour in the parking lot, trying to get them into the back of the car. Finally figuring out that if we placed them at one specific angle, with the backseat pulled down, they would just fit in, with the top of the box just about touching the dashboard, and the bottom of the box touching the back of the wagon’s rear hatch.  Yes, I’m too cheap to pay for the delivery.

Putting together a piece of Ikea furniture is a great test of any relationship, with all of its hardware pieces and instructions written with as few words as possible so they can use the same instruction sheet in several countries.   There’s a game show here in the US that sends couples around the world on a scavenger hunt, ‘The Amazing Race’.  One year they had the couples go to Sweden and put together a piece of Ikea furniture, whichever couple did it fastest won that leg of the race. The couples either finished quickly, or ended up arguing.   I have very limited spatial abilities, so I always anticipate problems with things like this.  In High School there are standard test questions that illustrate some kind of multi sided box, the question is what would the box look like if it were turned upside down or sideways.  I always got those questions wrong.    However, these bookcases weren’t so hard to construct,  except for me at first putting in one of the shelves upside down, it did turn out to be fairly easy.

Here’s the area where we want to put the built-in:

The first thing I had to do was build a base for the shelves.  Measuring the height of the baseboard, and where the bookcase is supposed to fit onto the baseboard, I used some 2X6 lumber to make a base.

Here’s what it looks like from above.  It’s probably stronger than it needs to be with those pieces of wood added into the middle of the box.

Here’s the three completed bookcases placed on top of the base.

 

They really do need to be bolted into the wall, they’re not very stable sitting on their own.  The instructions try to make sure that you know what you’re getting into with these bookcases.  Ikea pretty much tells you that if you want a freestanding bookcase try one of the other styles since this one is supposed to be bolted on the wall.

Something I figured out is that since the house is so old, there’s a substantial slope to the floor.  In just under a foot, there’s about a 1/4 inch slope from level, so I had to add small blocks to the bottom of the base to make it level.  Also, see that vertical pencil mark ?  That’s where I almost cut that piece of wood, which would have been a big mistake.

 

This is just the start of this project, I’ll have to add another post later.