Tag Archives: Hopeful Things

“But oh my dear, I can’t be clever and stand-offish with you…”

We’ve made it a bit of a Valentine’s Day tradition here at the Free For All to share with you some literary love letter (or love letters from the literary) as our contribution to your Valentine’s Day celebrations.  This year, we bring you a brief correspondence from the long relationship between novelist and essayist Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West.

The beautiful relationship between Virginia and Vita began in December 1922, when Vita was invited to a dinner party at Virginia’s house, and continued to grow and develop over the course of nearly twenty years.  It would appear that there was an immediate affinity between the two women that would develop in the coming weeks and years into a force that would change them both for the better.

Vita and Virginia, via Letters of Note: http://www.lettersofnote.com/2013/06/a-squeal-of-pain.html

Despite the class and age differences between the two women (when they met, Vita was 30 and Virginia nearly 40), they had far more in  common that it might at first appear: both women suffered from sheltered upbringings and emotionally distant parents, and both embodied identities that went beyond traditional heterosexuality, though the language was not readily available to help them identify at the time.  Both women were married to men, but both experienced emotional and sexual relationships outside of their marriages.  As Vita’s son wrote years later of the two women and their marriages:

Their marriages were alike in the freedom they allowed each other, in the invincibility of their love, in its intellectual, spiritual and non-physical base, in the eagerness of all four of them to savour life, challenge convention, work hard, play dangerously with the emotions — and in their solicitude for each other.

They were also both devoted writers; it was, perhaps, a test of their friendship that they didn’t see eye-to-eye in terms of literary matters, but still supported each others’ literary endeavors whole-heartedly.  Vita chose to publish her books with Hogarth Press, the publishing company that Virginia and her husband founded, and the revenues from those books allowed Virginia the financial freedom to publish her more experimental works, such as The Waves.

Via Brakinpickings: https://www.brainpickings.org/2016/07/28/virginia-woolf-vita-sackville-west/

Vita was also instrumental in helping Virginia come to terms with herself and her past.  As their friendship developed, Virginia confided in Vita that she had been abused by her step-brother as a child, and Vita became instrumental in helping her work to heal those wounds and accept herself.  Moreover, Virginia’s father had diagnosed her as ‘nervous’ as a child, and stated that writing would only result in a breakdown.  Virginia grew up obsessed with physical fitness, believing it was the only key to remaining healthy.  Vita was the first person to encourage her writing and her self-esteem, urging her to see that her writing came from strengths, rather than being a source of weakness.  The results were truly moving.  While they were traveling in Paris, Virginia purchased a mirror, saying she felt she could look in a mirror for the first time in her life.

Years later, Virginia would present Vita with her novel Orlando, a brilliant, satirical, and stunningly beautiful story about the adventures of a poet who changes sex from man to woman and lives for centuries, meeting the key figures of English literary history.  The character of Orlando was based on Vita, and embodied not only her queer identity, but also her passion for life, her social skills, and the wicked sense of humor that both women shared.

According to some sources, the two ended their friendship over their views over the political decisions that led to the outbreak of the Second World War–Virginia was a staunch pacifist, while Vita supported German rearmament.  The love between them, however, endured.  After Virginia Woolf’s death by suicide in 1941, Vita’s friendship remained constant.  She wrote heartfelt condolence letters to Virginia’s husband and sister, commemorating Virginia’s individuality and spirit in a way that only someone who loved her profoundly could do:

The loveliest mind and spirit I ever knew, immortal both to the world and us who loved her. … This is not a hard letter to write as you will know something of what I feel and words are unnecessary. For you I feel a really overwhelming sorrow, and for myself a loss which can never diminish.

Here, we present a letter from Vita to Virginia, along with Virginia’s response, written while Vita was traveling in Italy.  This set of letters is beautiful, not only because it conveys their depth of their feelings for each other (and the pain that being separated caused them)–there are also some wonderful observations on the power of true love to cut through our façades and to see through our masks.  Their plain, honest admission of missing each other is in itself moving, but it’s also fascinating to see both women admit to not being able to pretend around each other.   That kind of inherent honesty is pretty rare in relationships, and it’s that beautiful honest that we celebrate today.

 

Those looking for more information on the relationship between Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West should check out the recently-released book of their correspondence, as well as: Bloomsbury Women: Distinct Figures in Life and Art, and A Secret Sisterhood: The literary friendships of Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, George Eliot, & Virginia Woolf.  For more biographical and primary source references, check out:Vita and Harold: The Letters of Vita Sackville-West and Harold NicholsonThe Letters of Virginia Woolf, and Virginia Woolf: A Portrait.


From Sackville-West to Woolf

Milan [posted in Trieste]
Thursday, January 21, 1926

I am reduced to a thing that wants Virginia. I composed a beautiful letter to you in the sleepless nightmare hours of the night, and it has all gone: I just miss you, in a quite simple desperate human way. You, with all your un-dumb letters, would never write so elementary phrase as that; perhaps you wouldn’t even feel it. And yet I believe you’ll be sensible of a little gap. But you’d clothe it in so exquisite a phrase that it would lose a little of its reality. Whereas with me it is quite stark: I miss you even more than I could have believed; and I was prepared to miss you a good deal. So this letter is just really a squeal of pain. It is incredible how essential to me you have become. I suppose you are accustomed to people saying these things. Damn you, spoilt creature; I shan’t make you love me any the more by giving myself away like this—But oh my dear, I can’t be clever and stand-offish with you: I love you too much for that. Too truly. You have no idea how stand-offish I can be with people I don’t love. I have brought it to a fine art. But you have broken down my defences. And I don’t really resent it …

Please forgive me for writing such a miserable letter.

V.

*

From Woolf to Sackville-West

52 Tavistock Square
Tuesday, January 26

Your letter from Trieste came this morning—But why do you think I don’t feel, or that I make phrases? ‘Lovely phrases’ you say which rob things of reality. Just the opposite. Always, always, always I try to say what I feel. Will you then believe that after you went last Tuesday—exactly a week ago—out I went into the slums of Bloomsbury, to find a barrel organ. But it did not make me cheerful … And ever since, nothing important has happened—Somehow its dull and damp. I have been dull; I have missed you. I do miss you. I shall miss you. And if you don’t believe it, you’re a longeared owl and ass. Lovely phrases? …

But of course (to return to your letter) I always knew about your standoffishness. Only I said to myself, I insist upon kindness. With this aim in view, I came to Long Barn. Open the top button of your jersey and you will see, nestling inside, a lively squirrel with the most inquisitive habits, but a dear creature all the same—


Note: Long Barn was the name of the country home that Vita Sackville-West and her husband owned in Kent.

Congrats to the Houston Astros!

It’s been a tough few months for Houston, and just as we at the Free For All have been eager to help in the recovery efforts, we also share in their joy as the Houston Astros win the 2017 World Series.

via houstonlibrary.org

And because we’ve been up too long watching the game (and every game in these series, for that matter!), we will simply refer you to this article, which documents the Library Battles that have ensued between the Houston Public Library system and the Los Angeles Public Library system.  Here’s a brief sample of a magic, via the Los Angeles Public Library and Houston Public Library Instgram feeds:

 

We launched our blog with some book-spine poetry, but we are seriously going to have to step up our game if we are ever going to compete at this level!

Five Book Friday, and more Hurricane Help

To those of you lovers of Pumpkin Spice, Maple, and Caramel Apple, we here at the Free For All wish you a very happy Second Day of Autumn!

We had some technical and time problems yesterday that prevented us from posting, but this Special Saturday Selection comes with lots of love, apologies, and literary gems.

Via NBC News, Mexican Firefighters and Rescuers working to save earthquake survivors

This week saw yet another hurricane devastate our friends in Puerto Rico, while an earthquake has brought widespread suffering  to our friends in Mexico.  Once again, we bring you ways to help.

The island of Puerto Rico is without power, and it is making it very difficult for friends and family to check in on loved one.  There are some numbers that you can call, however:

  • If you want to check on a loved one, call Puerto Rico’s Federal Affairs Administration at 1-202-778-0710.
  • For those who know someone who needs help on the island, call 787-777-0940. This is a radio station that is receiving emergency calls.
  • Another number you can call is the hurricane hotline at 1-877-976-2400. A tourism company set up the hotline for hotels, guests and industry partners.
  • Another option is to use American Red Cross’s website to search for people who have already registered themselves as safe. Click here to search for your loved one.

Callers are asked to be patient and keep calling if the line is busy. Also, do not hang up if you are on hold.

Here is a list of the following organizations that are doing good in Mexico, Puerto Rico, and Dominica, and could use your help:

MEXICO:

PUERTO RICO and DOMINICA:

As we noted before, the rebuilding and recovery efforts in these places is going to take a very long time, so if you are unable to donate now, please don’t worry.  We will be offering more information as it becomes available of any and all ways that you can help.

And now, because we all need a little bit of cheer, especially during tough weeks like these, here are some of the books that have graced our shelves this week, and would love to join you on your fall escapades….

The Book of Disquiet:  This gloriously quirky, eye-catching book is a compendium of the thoughts, ideas, ruminations, and insights by Portuguese modernist master Fernando Pessoa.  Recognized as one of Portugal’s greatest poets, Pessoa (1888-1935) wrote poetry under various heteronyms (fictional character/identities) to whom he attributed biographies different from his own, making each piece of this magical puzzle of a book a new and intriguing adventure.  Full of fresh metaphors and unique perceptions, this is a book you can read cover-to-cover, or dip into at random.  Either way, it’s a beautiful, mind-expanding journey that will have a lot of appeal for fans of existential writers like J.D. Salinger or Thomas Pyncheon. NPR agrees, saying “Pessoa’s work…is one of life’s great miracles. Pessoa invented numerous alter egos. Arguably, the four greatest poets in the Portuguese language were all Pessoa using different names.”

To Die in SpringRalf Rothmann is a little book, but it packs quite the emotional wallop, dealing, as it does, with the darkest days of the Second World Wars, and the shadow that history casts across the generations.  Distant, silent, often drunk, Walter Urban is a difficult man to have as a father. But his son is curious about Walter’s experiences during World War II, and so makes him a present of a blank notebook in which to write down his memories. But when Walter dies, leaving only the barest skeleton of a story behind, his son resolves to fill in the gaps himself, rightly or wrongly, with what he can piece together of his father’s early life.  This, then, is the story of Walter and his dangerously outspoken friend Friedrich Caroli, who are tricked into volunteering for the army during the spring of 1945: the last, and in many ways the worst, months of the war, enduring horrors that will lead both men to do what they previously imagined unthinkable.  This book is being hailed already as a modern masterpiece, with Kirkus Reviews declaring “Rothmann’s writing is spare and vivid, nearly cinematic. It is also crucial: German accounts of WWII have been relatively rare and slow in coming, especially when it comes to descriptions of their country’s own suffering. Rothmann is unflinching in his accounts of both German atrocities and misery . . . A spectacular novel . . . Searing, haunting, incandescent”

Going Dark: The Lost Platoon: From bestselling author Monica McCarty comes a new contemporary romance full of suspense, international intrigue, and some fascinating settings that kicks off what promises to be a sensational new series.  Marine ecologist Annie Henderson joins her new boyfriend on a trip to the Western Isles of Scotland to protest a hazardous offshore drilling venture. When she realizes that she may be swept up in something far more dangerous than she’d intended, there is only one man she can turn to. . . .She and the mysterious but sexy dive boat captain haven’t exactly gotten off to the best start, but something about his quiet confidence makes her think that he’s the kind of man she can depend on. Because he’s gruff and guarded, she can tell Dan Warren has secrets. But she could never imagine how high the stakes are for him to keep his cover, even as he risks everything to protect her.  Fans will know that McCarty always delivers a unique story with refreshingly inventive characters…and new readers have a perfect place to get started with this story!  RT Book Reviews loves this book, noting “A master storyteller…McCarty breathes life into her memorable characters as they face dangerous adventures. The fresh plots, infused with romance and passion, are also brimming with history and drama.”

Lightning MenFans of Thomas Mullen’s stupendous Darktown will be happy to know that the next adventure of Officer Denny Rakestraw and “Negro Officers” Lucius Boggs and Tommy Smith, who walk the dangerous streets of 1950’s Atlanta.  When Rake’s brother-in-law launches a scheme to rally the Ku Klux Klan to “save” their neighborhood, his efforts spiral out of control, forcing Rake to choose between loyalty to family or the law.  Across town, Boggs and Smith try to shut down the supply of white lightning and drugs into their territory, finding themselves up against more powerful foes than they’d expected. Battling corrupt cops and ex-cons, Nazi brown shirts and rogue Klansmen, the officers are drawn closer to the fires that threaten to consume the city once again.  Mullen’s work has drawn comparisons to crime-fiction greats like Dennis Lehane and Walter Mosely, and his characters are the kind of people who live with you even after the cover has closed.  Booklist gave this book a starred review, cheering “Mullen effectively uses the police procedural format to shine a light on the daily indignities and violence blacks suffered in the pre–civil rights South, while delivering a plot that never lets up on suspense.”

The Devil’s Wedding Ring: If you like the super-dark, mysterious North, and the mysteries that come out of is, then you are going to want to check out award-winning crime novelist Vidar Sundstøl’s latest book.  On Midsummer Eve in 1985, a young folklore researcher disappears from the small Norwegian village of Eidsborg.  Exactly thirty years later, student Cecilie Wiborg, who was also researching the pagan rituals associated with the 13th-century Eidsborg stave church, goes missing.  And then Knut Abrahamsen, a former local police officer, is found drowned with his pockets filled with stones.  Hearing of the death of his former colleague and friend, private investigator Max Fjellanger feels compelled to leave his long-time home in Florida and return to his native Norway to attend Knut’s funeral. Even though they haven’t spoken in more than three decades, Max is not convinced that Knut killed himself.  There are details about the circumstances of his death that just don’t add up…and there seems to be a link to the case of the missing researcher, which the two of them had worked together—until threats from a corrupt sheriff put an end to the investigation and to Max’s career on the police force.  But this is a case full of occult darkness and mystery that may very well be more than Fjellanger bargained for…Taut, thoughtful, and seriously creepy, this is a fast-paced adventure that earned a stared review from Publisher’s Weekly, who praised the way “Ancient myth and contemporary detection collide in this highly impressive thriller.”

One Long NightA Global History of Concentration Camps: Concentration camps have been a part of human society for over a century, but this book is one of the first to draw connections between the various sites of those camps, their evolution, efficacy, and enduring legacy.  In this harrowing work based on archival records and interviews during travel to four continents, Andrea Pitzer reveals for the first time the chronological and geopolitical history of concentration camps. Beginning with 1890s Cuba, she pinpoints concentration camps around the world and across decades. From the Philippines and Southern Africa in the early twentieth century to the Soviet Gulag and detention camps in China and North Korea during the Cold War, camp systems have been used as tools for civilian relocation and political repression. Often justified as a measure to protect a nation, or even the interned groups themselves, camps have instead served as brutal and dehumanizing sites that have claimed the lives of millions.  This is a harrowing book about the worst aspects of human nature, but it is also a startling human book that earned a starred review from Kirkus Reviews, who explained, “Drawing on memoirs, histories, and archival sources, [Pitzer] offers a chilling, well-documented history of the camps’ development…. A potent, powerful history of cruelty and dehumanization.”

 

Until next Friday, beloved patrons–happy reading!

On Libraries and Hurricane Relief Updates

None of us need a reminder that this year’s hurricane season has been historic and, for many of our friends in Texas, Florida, and the US Virgin Islands, life-changing.  And with even more hurricanes moving closer to Puerto Rico and the other Leeward Islands, it doesn’t look like life is going to be getting easier for many of those good people anytime soon.

But even as we in Massachusetts prepare for what is now Tropical Storm Jose, and send all our good wishes to our friends in the CLAMS Library Network, it’s really important that we don’t forget the clean-up and rebuilding efforts that all those affected by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma are undertaking.  Because they will be taking years.

Downed trees outside the Miami-Dade Public Library System’s Coconut Grove Branch after the storm
Photo courtesy of Miami Dade Public Library System

So, having said that, here are some updates from the wonderful people at the Texas Library Association and the Florida Library Associations, with some additions ways you can help!

Our first update comes from the American Library Association’s  #LibrariesRespond page, that not only advocates for disaster preparedness, but also offers a number of resources for helping Florida’s and Texas’ Libraries:

Florida Libraries Disaster Relief Fund

In the wake of Hurricane Irma, the Florida Library Association is working with the State Library of Florida to coordinate a response to damage caused to libraries across the state.  We have already begun receiving requests to help.  Anyone wishing to assist Florida libraries with their recovery efforts is urged to donate to the Florida Libraries Disaster Relief Fund.  Donations can be open to assisting any library affected by the storm, or can be directed to assist a specific library in need.  We will update our website frequently as we learn details about specific libraries and their needs.

There is also the inspiring “Rebuilding Florida Library” page on the Florida Library Association page, that is being consistently updated with needs and offers of help from libraries across the country.  Donations are being accepted through any of the links posted here.

Secondly, American Libraries Magazine has posted an update on the rebuilding efforts in Texas.  This article features some of the horrible circumstances that Houston’s Libraries faced, but also their incredible resiliency and determination to reopen as quickly as possible:

Nineteen of the 26 branches of the Harris County Public Library reopened on September 1 for emergency relief purposes only—for residents to fill out FEMA forms, use computers or internet, charge cellphones, or make use of a quiet, air-conditioned spot. Four branches are closed until further notice: Baldwin Boettcher, Barbara Bush, Katherine Tyra @ Bear Creek, and Kingwood. The library opened a pop-up library at the NRG Stadium to give evacuees some diversion with books for all ages, storytimes for kids, a 3D printer for informal edutainment, and a bank of laptops with internet access.

Texas Libraries begin cleaning up from Hurricane Harvey

For those looking to help, the Texas Library Association (TLA) and Texas State Library and Archives Commission are working together to assist damaged libraries across the Gulf Coast region. TLA has a disaster relief fund that is actively seeking contributions. Hundreds of individuals and companies have donated to the fund, and offers of books, furniture, volunteer assistance, computers, and preservation services are coming in regularly to TLA. The two organizations have also set up the Texas Library Recovery Connection, an online sharing system to bring together assisting organizations with libraries needing help.

The thing that consistently surprises me about these sites is the Google Spreadsheets.  On these documents, libraries post their needs, from computers to bookcases, from books to supplies.  And other people/groups/institutions can (and do) respond.  For all the complications and trouble that the Internet has brought into our lives, there is something genuinely awe-inspiring about the way that it can also bring people together and accomplish lasting good.  So feel free to check out these sites, contribute in whatever way you can, and appreciate the good that our species is capable of doing.

Hurricane Irma Relief

Two weeks ago, we offered a number of ways that you could help the victims of Hurricane Harvey in Texas–and you, the people of Massachusetts, and our own beloved patrons, responded.

As the Boston Globe reported, Boston City Hall was buzzing with people walking in off the streets with donations that ranged from 200 t-shirts, to boxes of diapers and formula, to change from piggy banks.  Here in Peabody, the donation portal for Hurricane Harvey relief is still active via the City Hall Website (the first option on this page will take you to the donation portal).

Now, there is more need from our friends in Florida and the US Virgin Islands.  These are early days as yet, and the total damage from Hurricane Irma, which is still winding its way up the eastern seaboard, has yet to be fully assessed.  Nevertheless, there are people and organizations already doing good in the communities hardest hit by this storm, and they need your assistance.

Here are a list of charities, programs, and organizations that are active in the Florida and US Virgin Islands communities that are currently accepting donations.  If you are in a position to help financially, you can click on any of the links to see the charities.  Please avoid sending clothes, toys, or perishable items at this time, as there are few places to receive or store it.  The New York Times has produced a helpful article on how to help, and how to avoid scams.

If this is not a time you are able to help, please don’t worry.  Rebuilding in a process that takes years and years, and there will be any number of ways to help in the future.  We will be sure to keep you updated about them as news and opportunities become available.

Thank you in advance for your generosity, your kindness, and any good wishes or kind thoughts you are able to share.

We are all made of stars.  It’s time to shine.

Look for the Helpers

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping. To this day, especially in times of disaster, I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers — so many caring people in this world.” — Fred Rogers

Those of us who live in and work in and around Downtown Peabody know what floods look like.  Being partially below sea level (and with an average elevation of 17 feet) will do that.

But that flooding is nothing compared to what our friends in Texas are enduring right now as a result of Hurricane Harvey, and it’s not getting better.  So for those of you who listen to Mr. Rogers (quoted above), and would like to know how to be an effective Helper, we have some resources for you.

First of all, because we are a Library that cares about Libraries, the Texas Library Association and Texas State Library and Archives Commission are working together to coordinate a response to damage caused to libraries and archives across the Houston and gulf coast region.  They have issued a joint statement saying, essentially, that it’s too early yet to know what libraries and archives affected by Hurricane Harvey, but that TLA has its Disaster Relief Fund available and TSLAC is considering how it can make resources available as well. As damage is assessed, they will provide more information on the availability of these resources.  

At this point, people are asked not to send material donations, such as books.  Right now, there is no way to know what is needed, and no where at all to store donations.  Anyone wishing to help financially are encouraged to donate online to the TLA Disaster Relief Fund.

For those looking for other ways to help, please check out this enormously useful article from Texas Monthly that lists all the charities, organizations, and institutions working on the ground in affected areas to help people and animals.  You can access this article here.

If you work or live in the Boston Area, Mayor Marty Walsh has announced a drive called “Help for Houston”.   The collection effort starts today, Tuesday, August 29, and lasts through Thursday, August 31. The Mayor is asking residents to contribute items to those impacted by Hurricane Harvey in Texas.  They are collection food, infant formula, blankets, and a number of other items at collection centers in and around the City.  Check out the City’s website for full details and collection sites.

If you are not in a position to donate at this moment, please know that help will be needed in Texas for a long time to come, and we’ll be sure to keep you updated on ways you can help in the coming days and weeks.

“NOW is a fact that cannot be dodged.”

“A country that tolerates evil means- evil manners, standards of ethics-for a generation, will be so poisoned that it never will have any good end.”  (Sinclair Lewis)

 

In 1935, Sinclair Lewis published a book, a political semi-satire, entitled It Can’t Happen HereYou may have heard about it recently…it’s been getting a lot of renewed attention.

The novel centers on Doremus Jessup, an American journalist covering the campaign of Senator Berzelius “Buzz” Windrip, a charismatic and power-hungry politician , who promises to restore the country to prosperity and greatness, to secure “traditional values”–and to do it by any means necessary.  He calls himself a member of the “League of Forgotten Men”, whose statue in society has been diminished by Jewish organizations, non-white people, and women.  When he is eventually elected, Windrip begins systematically dismantling the American government and instituting a “Corpo” government that gives rights to businesses.  The “Corpo Government” proceeds to outlaw dissent, incarcerate political enemies, restrict the rights of women, minorities, and establish concentration camps where those who oppose the regime are sent.  Jessup ends up in one of these concentration camps, but manages to escape, making his way to Canada, and working as a writer and a spy by the New Underground, working to bring down Windrup’s regime.

Make of this plot what you will.  Sinclair was writing in 1935, when Fascism was gaining power at a frightening speed in Europe, and his concern was that fear would lead the United States down a similar path.  His message throughout the book is two-fold:

  1. That democratic institutions, civil rights, and systems that ensure equality are very easy to break.  It only requires people to be frightened enough to mistrust each other.  Throughout his campaign, Windrip sows this fear by emphasizing racial, ethic, and religious stereotypes, by telling people that they are not safe around people who don’t look like them, and by assuring them that he alone can protect them.  But once broken, those institutions are incredibly difficult to reinstate.
  2. That … well, I’ll let him say it for himself:

More and more, as I think about history…I am convinced that everything that is worth while in the world has been accomplished by the free, inquiring, critical spirit, and that the preservation of this spirit is more important than any social system whatsoever. But the men of ritual and the men of barbarism are capable of shutting up the men of science and of silencing them forever.”

We know this is a scary time for just about everyone.  But we at the Library encourage you to fight that fear, first with information–with good information, from reputable sources.  We are quite literally, full of such information, and we exist to help you find that information.  George Peabody knew that the only way democracy could function was to allow its citizens to be capable of thinking for themselves, and we function to fulfill that goal.

We also want you to know that, now, and forever, that you are welcome here.  The Library is a place of safety and a place of trust.  And we reject any ideology that does not respect the dignity and humanity of every person that comes through our doors.